History of the Cocktail
The origin of the word cocktail will probably never be known because there are many stories of where it came from. These origination accounts include a woman named Betsy Flannagan putting a rooster tail in drinks (cock-tail); an American tavern keeper pouring alcohol into a ceramic rooster, then guests would tap the tail when they wanted a drink; and a possible derivation from the French word coquetel.
The very first known mention of the word cocktail was found in an early American newspaper, the Farmer's Cabinet, on April 28, 1803. It read, “Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head…. Call'd at the Doct's. found Burnham—he looked very wise—drank another glass of cocktail.”
In 1806, the definition of the word first appeared in print in the Hudson, New York, publication The Balance & Columbian Repository as a political stab against Democrats. It ran, “Cocktail is stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters. It is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”
Keeping Cocktail History Alive
The historical cocktail has recently come back into vogue. Much of this is due to great cocktail historians and authors who are passionate about preserving the history of the cocktail. The main contributions come from The Museum of the American Cocktail and Tales of the Cocktail.
Jerry Thomas, the first celebrity bartender, published the first drink recipe book to contain cocktails, How to Mix Drinks, in 1862. He marveled at the inventiveness of the nineteenth-century world, of which mixology was a part. “A new beverage is the pride of the Bartender, and its appreciation and adoption his crowning glory,” Thomas wrote in the 1876 edition.
The book contained several drinks that are still familiar to us today. How to Mix Drinks included three different Tom Collins recipes, although the rest of the Collins family is not mentioned. Recipes for the Manhattan and Whiskey Sour were printed, and Thomas included what he termed “temperance drinks”—drinks without alcohol.