The Origin of the Cocktail (name)

The Origin of the Cocktail (name)
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Have you ever lounged in the midday sun sipping a Margarita or curled up on the sofa with a Brandy Alexander cocktail after a wonderful meal and suddenly thought to yourself, where the hell did the word cocktail come from?! Well, we have, so we sent Dan down to the local library i.e the internet, to try and find out the true origin of the cocktail. As it turns out, there is no definitive account as to the origin of the term cocktail. What follows are a few of our favourite stories pertaining to explain how the name came about – we cannot confirm the validity of any of them.

Story 1

Legend has it that bartenders used to drain the dregs off all the barrels and mix them together, serving the resultant muddle at an attractively reduced price. “Cock” was another name for spigot, and “tailings” is the last bit of alcohol, and hence the drink was referred to as the “cock-tailings,” quickly shortened to “cocktail.”


Story 2

The origin of the term cocktail may derive from the story of Betsy Flanagan, who was an innkeeper during the Revolutionary War, well known for mixing her own drinks. The story goes that Betsy stole chickens from her British neighbour and served them roasted to her clientele. After the meal, she served her guests a special alcohol concoction in glasses decorated with the tail feathers of the  recently consumed fowl. One of her appreciative French customers was to stand up and raise a toast “Vive le cocktail!”


Story 3

The word Cocktail may be a distant derivation of the name for the Aztec goddess, Xochitl. Xochitl was also the name of a Mexican princess who served drinks to American soldiers.


Story 4

One story goes that the origin of the cocktail may have been inspired by the potent “cock-ale,” an alcoholic mixture either fed to fighting cocks in the 1700s to get them in a fighting spirit, or sold to the crowds during such events.

Story 5

Another possibility incorporates the fact that “cock-tail” was once a term for a non-thoroughbred horse.  Their tails were bobbed, or “cocked” to distinguish them from their purebred brethren. It also meant a man who wished to appear to be a gentleman but lacked the breeding to do so. Therefore, some assumed that either these faux-gentlemen’s drinks of choice over time acquired the same name, or a clever chap noted that a non-thoroughbred horse is a mix of breeds and “cocktail” is a mix of spirits and was inspired to give the drinks that moniker.

Story 6

Some claim that doctors used to treat throat problems with a pleasant-tasting medicine applied to the tip of a feather from a cock’s tail; then when people started to drink or gargle the medicine outright, the name “cock’s tail” was still used.


Story 7

One story alleges that a doctor in ancient Rome made a wine-based mixed drink that he called “cockwine” that was our modern cocktail’s predecessor. Supposedly, Emperor Lucius Aurelius (180-192 A.D.) was quite fond of it.

Story 8

The most straightforward story, and perhaps the one that makes most sense, is that the origin of the term cocktail referred to the fact that a potent drink will “cock your tail,” i.e., get your spirits up.

Story 9

The origin of the cocktail may have derived from the French term for egg cup, which is coquetel. One story that brought this reference to America refers to Antoine Amedie Peychaud of New Orleans who created the famous Peychauds Bitters. The story goes that Antoine mixed his biiters into stomach remedy served in a coquetel. Due to problems pronouncing coquetel it eventually became known as a cocktail.



Written by Guest Author

Posted: November 8, 2012