The Origin of “Cocktail” Is Not What You Think

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Remember Imbibe!? That fantastic book from cocktail historian David Wondrich that came out in 2007 about “Professor” Jerry Thomas and the origins of classic recipes like the Sazerac and Julep?

Well, as of April 7, there’s a second edition of Wondrich’s must-read book. The New York Times spirits writer Robert Simonson recently interviewed Wondrich for Grub Street about the brand-spankin’ new book, in which he revealed what he believes to be the origin of the word we’ve all come to know and love.

And to be honest…it’s not what we expected. Here’s what he said:

“…I actually know where “cocktail” came from, pretty solidly. It’s in the book. Ginger was used in the horse trade to make a horse stick its tail up. They’d put it in its ass. If you had an old horse you were trying to sell, you would put some ginger up its butt, and it would cock its tail up and be frisky. That was known as “cock-tail.” It comes from that. It became this morning thing. Something to cock your tail up, like an eye-opener. I’m almost positive that’s where it’s from.”

Isn’t that…sweet? Check out the rest of his interview with Grub Street and get your copy of Wondrich’s second installment of Imbibe!.

Image: Danny Valdez

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Discussion (1)

  • Magnus Asbjorn posted 2 years ago

    Does he list a source because, the act of placing ginger in somethings anus was traditionally call figging used as a punishment up until the end of the Victorian era, and in the 1887 Poem 'Vernon's strait tip to all cross coves', the act of doing it to sell a bad horse is referred to as "fig-a-nag". It is my understanding the the drink that would become the Cocktail and then the Old Fashioned was being enjoyed nameless by Mark Twain which puts him and the beverage in the same time frame as figging and fig-a-nag.


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