The History of the Cocktail

Cocktail facts & history / email

Let’s be real: the word “cocktail” is a little strange. Why did someone mix together alcohol, bitters, sugar, and water, and decide to call it a “cocktail?” Where did the term really come from and who first invented it?

Here are five fast facts about the history of the cocktail:

  • The word “cocktail” was first defined in 1806 by The Balance and Columbian Repository as  “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters, vulgarly called a bittered sling.”
  • One popular story behind the term “cocktail” refers to a rooster’s tail (or a cock tail) being used as a Colonial drink garnish.
  • Another theory about the name “cocktail” derives from the term “cock tailings,” when tavern owners combine the dregs (tailings) of empty barrels together into a single elixir sold at bargain prices. The spigot of a barrel was sometimes referred to as a “cock.”
  • Mrs. Julius S. Walsh, Jr. held the first cocktail party in May 1917 in St. Louis with fifty people. The St. Paul Pioneer Press described it as “the newest stunt in society.”
  • How to Mix Drinks ($13),” written by “Professor” Jerry Thomas in 1862, is said to be the first bartender’s guide and featured 10 cocktail recipes (check out the most famous cocktail book here).


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