A Quick History of Cocktails

There is debate surrounding the origin of the word ‘cocktail’, but it is widely believed that the earliest reference was in relation to a horse with its tail cut short to indicate it was of a mixed breed.


However, another story originating from the UK suggests that the word cocktail was using during the Colonial period when spirits were stored in casks. When these casks were almost empty, the tailings (or dregs as we know it) would be mixed into one barrel and sold at a reduced price which was referred to as the cock. People wanting this cheaper alcohol would ask for ‘cock tailings’ which was a mix of the spirit ends.

Another theory from New Orleans dates back to an apothecary which served a mixed brandy drink in a French egg cup. The drink was named ‘coquetier’, the French term for an egg cup, and eventually it became the word ‘cocktail’ due to mispronunciation.

We may be unclear on the heritage behind the origin, but the first definition of a cocktail was published in New York newspaper ‘The Balance and Columbian Repository’ in 1806.

The newspaper defined a cocktail as  “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters…” in response to a reader’s question.

This cocktail mixture refers to what we now know as an ‘Old Fashioned’ which combines sugar, bitters, alcohol and a twist of citrus rind.

In 1862, Jerry Thomas published arguably the most famous cocktail book of all time ‘How To Mix Drinks or Bon Vivant Companion ‘.

Dubbed the ‘father of mixology’, Jerry Thomas was an American bartender who operated saloons in New York.

His 238-page book quickly became a bartender’s bible and is regularly referenced for its collection of recipes.

The book laid out the principles for mixing drinks, including the first written recipes for cocktails including the Daisy, the Mint Julep and the Sour.

Following this, the prohibition and World Wars considerably decreased cocktail consumption and it was not until the 90’s that Thomas’ cocktail culture was revived at New York’s Rainbow Room by a group of bartenders including famed bartender Dale Degroff.

With the introduction of new flavoured spirits, the cocktail market expanded and by the mid-2000s cocktails increased in popularity as the drinks became widely available and mixologists began experimenting with a wider range of ingredients.

Cocktails have become a staple addition to bar and restaurant menus across the globe.

With new festivals dedicated to cocktails across the globe and new distilleries opening daily, cocktails have shaken their way to the top.