We are so lucky to have a fab family of lovely cousins and the cousins visiting us now brought not only their good selves and cake-making son, but a selection of ready-made cocktails in sachets which can be popped in the freezer until needed… mmmm, how very nice, a had a mojito last night! As I was clearing away our empty glasses (this morning!) I began to wonder about where the name ‘cocktail came from. I wasn’t sure whether cocktail, meaning a mixture of things, was in use before the alcoholic version became popular, thinking about an actual cock bird’s tail, and how often they are a mixture of colours.
I investigated and found that it is generally agreed that the first written time the word was used in the current sense was in 1807 by an American barman. However, the ide of mixing spirits has a long history of its own. The idea of alcohol being good for health goes back to at least Biblical times, and in the 1600’s in Britain the duty on alcohol was reduced.Water supplies in the cities were so contaminated and the population increasing so dramatically and living in what we would call slums, that disease was rife. It wasn’t properly understood that the water people drank caused the diseases they suffered, and alcohol was used as a preventative and cure… If people didn’t drink water but only gin and beer, they may died of alcoholism but they wouldn’t get dysentery! So maybe the idea of mixing drinks went back to when alcohol was so cheap.
The word cocktail might derive from an actual horse’s tail; a cocked tail was one of the signs of a healthy horse, and there were plenty of tricks for getting an animal’s tail to cock up by unscrupulous dealers, including the application of mustard/horseradish/ginger to a delicate part f the poor creature’s anatomy!
In trying to find the origins for the word describing the delicious concoction of spirits, I came across a very interesting and complete article, which 1798 has been discovered to be the first recorded use of the word; on March 20th to be exact: