Why is it called a “cocktail?”

The mystery is solved — sort of

Ever wonder why it’s called a cocktail? I have, and I set out to learn the answer. So, I checked with Gary (Gaz) Regan, my friend and business associate and, a fountainhead of information about all sorts of booze business matters. He has written 18 books on the business including, 101 best new Cocktails, The Bartender’s Gin Compendium, and The Joy of Mixology.

 It turns out that in the new revised and updated edition of The Joy of Mixology, Gaz addresses this question at the outset of this amazing book, which is full of anecdotes, stories, and cocktail recipes. With his permission here are some excerpts on “How Did a Cocktail Come to be called a Cocktail?

On May 13, 1806, the Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York, answered a reader’s query as to the nature of a cocktail: “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called a bittered sling.” The cocktail had been born, it had been defined, and yet it couldn’t have been very well known by the general populace, or the newspaper wouldn’t have considered it a fit topic for elucidation.

Where does the word cocktail come from? There are many answers to that question, and none is really satisfactory. One particular favorite story of mine, though, comes from The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of a Man in His Cups, by George Bishop: “The word itself stems from the English cock-tail which, in the middle 1800s, referred to a woman of easy virtue who was considered desirable but impure. The word was imported …

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Behind the Stick: The Changing Bartender

the finishing touch

From a job to a career

The last 30 years in the booze business has seen fundamental shifts in all aspects. The industry has consolidated at all levels: manufacturer (supplier), distributor, and retailer. Consumer preferences have gone from whiskies to vodkas and back to whiskies. Mass-produced brands are losing ground to craft and micro distillers. The cocktail has reemerged with a vengeance.

Consider the arguably most important person in the drinks business chain, the influencer, the gatekeeper of choice – the bartender. In my view, there are profound shifts in motivation and aspiration that has changed the nature of bartending and the people who work that craft.

My friend Gaz Regan, in a recent interview with Tales of the Cocktail, summed it up nicely when asked about the changes affecting bartending. He points out that, so far as he is concerned, the changes began about ten years ago. “Bartending prior to that was a part-time job. Something you did until you got a real job.”

He went on to add:

“What happened was, the spirits companies began to recognize the value of bartenders. They started having [drink] competitions with big prizes, and investing money in bartenders. Giving bartenders jobs as brand ambassadors followed that. And, in return, the bartenders gave the spirits companies the exposure that they were looking for. So that’s been a fabulous marriage. I get asked sometimes, is this all going to go away? My answer is, not as long as the spirits companies are making money.”

In the past…

Some of my theatre friends have an interesting expression. “A bartender is an actor that doesn’t want to become a writer.” That’s the way it …

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