The origin of the cocktail is a contested story whose truth may never fully come to light. For centuries, all over the western world, people have been experimenting with mixing drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The origin of the name “cocktail ” itself is not certain. Some of the more common (and amusing!) explanations are
An Englishman”s Misfortune
In 1779, after her husband was killed in the American War of Independence, innkeeper Betsy Flanagan opened an inn near Yorktown that was frequented by American and French soldiers. An English chicken farmer lived nearby. Due to the political climate at the time, Betsy was probably not too fond of her neighbor, prompting her to promise her American and French customers that she would serve them a meal of roast chicken one day. Her guests occasionally mocked her boasts saying she would never go through with it. One evening, an unusual number of officers gathered at her inn, so Betsy served a lavish meal of chicken, stolen from her English neighbor. When the meal was over, Betsy moved her guests to the bar, where she served up drinks decorated with a tail-feather from the chickens. The officers drank until morning, periodically making rowdy calls for more “cock tails. ”
A Ceramic Rooster
The owner of an American bar had a large ceramic container in the form of a rooster. The container was filled with the leftovers from drinks. The less affluent could get a drink from this container, served from a tap at the tail. Hence, the name cocktail became associated with a mix of drinks. Some say the quality was always high after English sailors had been in, as there was a good mixture of rum, gin and brandy in the cocktail.
In nineteenth century America, a cock was a tap, while its tail was the last, muddy dregs of the tap. Colonel Carter, of Culpepper Court House, Virginia, was served the tail at his local tavern. Seeing it as a disgrace, he threw it to the floor and said from then on he would only drink “cock tails ” of his own design. His concoction was a mix of gin, lemon peel, bitters and sugar, and is possibly the ancestor of modern cocktails.
A “cocktailed horse ” was a term for one whose tail has been bobbed, giving it a flamboyant and jolly appearance. As the mixed drinks served in the bars and inns had a very high alcoholic content, the name “cocktail ” possibly came from its ability to “cock the tail “, or get a careless customer drunk very quickly.
There Once Was a Girl in Mexico
In the early 1800s, the southern states had reached a peace agreement with King Axolot VIII of Mexico. At peace ceremonies, a drink was served to seal the agreement. At one ceremony, a pretty young woman brought forth the drink (she was also the one to concoct the drink) in an intricately decorated gold cup. As she was approaching the king and the general who represented the states, she realized that with only one cup, she would have to serve one before the other, causing embarrassment for one of the men. So instead of committing the social faux pas, she quickly drank the contents of the cup. The general asked the king who the girl was. The king replied “My daughter, Coctel. “