ORIGIN OF THE COCKTAIL

• H.L. Mencken gathered over 40 stories concerning the origin of the cocktail. The one thing that is certain about the cocktail is that the word first appeared in print in 1806.
• The story goes a widow owned a tavern around 1779 in New York. There she entertained rebel soldiers. They often complained about a nearby English neighbor who irritated them by prospering. He owned excellent chickens and the tavern owner often promised to serve her customers a meal of stolen chicken. After being teased for her failure to live up to her promise, her friends one evening were served not only Roast Stolen Rooster but also, for dessert, were treated to a drink composed of rum and fruit juice with a feather from the stolen chicken’s tail as decoration. “More cock tails!” shouted one officer, and so the cocktail was born.
• According to legend, there was an inn in Virginia called the Cock and Bottle. In those days, a cock was another word for the wooden tap on a draft beer barrel, so a sign that had both a picture of a cock and a bottle on it would indicate that the tavern served both draft beer and wine. The “tail” was the muddy dregs at the bottom of the barrel, served to patrons for a cut rate. Legend says that a customer was once so outraged at the poor quality of the cock’s tail he was served that he vowed he would henceforth drink only cock tails of his own brewing and immediately mixed up various ingredients in order to make a more palatable drink – the first cocktail.
• Another theory is that in somebody’s bar in some American harbor, leftover bits of drinks that were served but not consumed were dumped together in a container shaped like a rooster. Customers could get cheap drinks from a tap set in the tail of the rooster, the cock’s tail.
• The story goes that a Mexican woman named Xochtil served a mixed drink to an American general, who enjoyed the drink but couldn’t pronounce her name. He called her Cocktail instead, and named the drink after her.
• Or perhaps it came from an apothecary named Peychaud (of Peychaud Bitters fame) in New Orleans. This French pharmacist served medicinal liquors in small egg-shaped cups called “coquetiers” typically used for serving soft boiled eggs. Americans could not readily pronounce “coquetiers,” calling it a cocktail instead.
• Another claim is that when cock fights were all the rage, the fighting roosters would often be fed bread soaked in alcohol in order to make them a bit more aggressive. This was known as “cock’s ale.”
• And then there were the celebratory drinks served after a victorious cockfight. The owner of the winning cock would be treated to a drink that contained a number of feathers equal to the number of feathers left in the winning cock’s tail, like swizzle sticks.
• Or perhaps it’s related to the West African word “kaketal” meaning scorpion, because they both have a sting.
• It may have something to do with bobbing the tail of horses – trimming the tail short, or cocking it, to indicate that the horse is not a thoroughbred, as when a gentleman has a few too many to drink.
• The American Heritage Dictionary defines “cocktail” as “an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream.” The dictionary solves the conundrum of the word’s origin simply by stating, “Origin unknown.”

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