Happy Birthday, Dear Cocktail
Last week, the Atlantic Food Channel cited May 6, 1806 as the birth of the cocktail.
That’s one of the earliest mentions of the cocktail in print in The Balance & Columbian Repository, a now defunct paper from Hudson, New York. Who created it and the exact date of said creation is the product of much speculation and may forever elude us.
Wikipedia, the least trusted site that everyone seems to trust, has the same year, the same definition, but marks the actual birth date as May 13th. Curiously, they also list the first use of the term “cocktail” as three years earlier.
The earliest known printed use of the word “cocktail” was from The Farmer’s Cabinet, April 28, 1803: “11. 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.”
The earliest definition of “cocktail” was in the May 13, 1806, edition of the Balance and Columbian Repository, a publication in Hudson, New York, in which an answer was provided to the question, “What is a cocktail?”. It stated that:
“Cocktail is a 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.”
Compare the ingredients listed (spirits, sugar, water, and bitters) with the ingredients of an Old Fashioned.
Often, the Sazerac is cited as the first cocktail, even though it didn’t appear until 25 years later.
203 years later, the liquid gold still flows, as does the cash. In 2008, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, revenue reported by liquor suppliers was $18.7 billion. In the last few years, bartenders have been elevated with new monikers like gastro-bartenders and celebrity mixologist. Prohibition cocktails have made a comeback, as have the caterpillar mustaches. Bars no longer have neon signs, but dark, unlit doorways, unlisted phone numbers, and even entrances through phone booths. I often feel guilty ordering something simple like a gin & tonic, forget a glass of wine.
But, what are the essentials for a perfect cocktail? Shaken, stirred? As cocktail week (May 6th-13th) comes to a close, I’d love to hear from you. Please share your favorite cocktail ingredients, recipes, toasts or places in the comment section below.
Bottoms up… and I leave you with a few good drinking quotes:
Work is the curse of the drinking class. -Oscar Wilde
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor. – George Carlin
I drink to make other people interesting. -George Jean Nathan Arthur
Reality is an illusion that occurs due to the lack of alcohol. -Anonymous
Not everyone who drinks is a poet. Some of us drink because we’re not poets. -Arthur, played by Dudley Moore
I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table; after four I’m under the host. – Dorothy Parker
‘Mr Churchill, you are drunk!’
MP Bessie Braddock to Winston Churchill
‘And you Madam are ugly.
But I shall be sober tomorrow!’
Winston Churchill’s Response