Why Is It Called A Cocktail?

Why Is It Called A Cocktail?

Okay, so I think that we can all agree that cocktails are delicious, right? They’re so versatile with so many different options. From sweet and sugary to super strong, there’s a concoction out there for you in a cute glass and a crazy straw.

We all know that cocktails taste great. We know they are the perfect sipping option at brunch, and we know they’ve been sipped at pretty much since spirits were invented. But what we want to know is why are they called cocktails?

Well, there’s a little bit of a debate that circulates over the origin of the name cocktail. So let’s take a look at these different theories.

Cocktail Definition

Before we get straight into the different theories of why a cocktail is called a cocktail, I thought it would be best to actually define it. What is a cocktail?

Well according to the dictionary a cocktail is ‘an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream.’

This will be important to know as it may help you decide which of the following theories you think is the most likely or realistic.

Cocktail Origin Theories

In the world of the cocktails name origin debate, because yes, apparently that’s a thing, there are three main theories. Whether we’ll ever truly know which of these theories is correct, I don’t know. But why not take a look at the three yourself and see which one you think is most likely?

Theory One: The Egg-Cup Theory (Coquetier)

Okay, so the story of the egg-cup theory goes a little like this. Way back, in the 18th century, a New Orleans apothecary names Antoine Amedee Peychaud invented Peychaud bitters. And this apothecary would serve and sell his bitter along with some brandy in a little egg cup.

Now, the French word for eggcup was coquetier. However, when repeated in English many people would mispronounce the word and say cocktay. It is believed that from here the word cocktail was born.

Theory Two: The Dregs Theory (Cock Tailings)

If you’re not a fan of the egg-cup theory, maybe the dregs theory will have you more convinced. So, the dregs theory is as follows.

At the end of a long night, tavern owners were known for pooling together all the leftover dregs (also known as tailings) of barrels that were close to being empty. They would then send this mixture of booze at a discounted rate.

The tap of these said barrels were also known as a ‘cock.’
And so many believe that the ‘cock’ and the ‘tailings’ of the multitude of the leftover mixture is where the origin of cocktails began.

Theory Three: The Docked Horse Theory (Cock Tail)

Then last but by no means least, we have the final theory: The Docked Horse.

Okay, so, back in the 17th Century ‘cock tail’ was already a term. It was used to refer to any animal that had a cock or rooster-like tail. And during this time period, many horses had docked tails for a whole host of practical purposes.

However 2 centuries later, during the 19th century, thoroughbreds had been introduced which did not have these docked tails. So around this time, especially during races, people started to notice the difference between a thoroughbred tail and a docked tail (cocktail.)

But what does this have to do with alcohol, right? That’s what I first thought too when I heard this theory. Well, it is believed that there could be two possible connections between the drink and the horses.

Perky & Frisky

Racehorses that had cocked tails were known for being a little perkier and friskier than those without. Thus cock your tail up became a saying that had a similar meaning to eye-opening.

Some believe that the popular saying influenced the name of the cocktail drink. And let’s face it, we’re definitely perkier and friskier after a couple of cocktails

Changed Tails

The second connection is that the horse’s tails had been changed. When you make a cocktail, you are changing the spirit that you are drinking.

And since racing and liquor have pretty much always gone hand in hand, many believe that cocktail soon became the name for adulterated spirits at the races and the name caught on and stuck.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Was The Word Cocktail First Used?

Of course, we’ll never actually know when the word cocktail was first spoken or by whom, but we do know when it was first written.

The word cocktail was first seen in The Famers Cabinet, 1803, in the United States. The word cocktail then got its first definition as an alcoholic beverage three years later.

What Was The First Ever Cocktail Called?

Again, there’s a fair amount of speculation over what the very first cocktail was called. However, many experts agree that the very first cocktail was namd the Sazerac which was a blend of absinthe bitters, sugar, and whisky.

What Are The 3 Elements Of A Cocktail?

For any typical cocktail, there are three main elements that create it. You have the core which is a base spirit, the balance which is sugar, and the seasoning which is often bitters.

Final Thoughts

So, which theory do you think is the most likely for the origins of the name cocktail? There’s a lot of debate over each theory – and all three definitely make sense.

Who knows? Perhaps there is an element of truth to all the theories and then collectively it just ensured that the name stuck for good.

I personally, like the idea of the name coming from the races and horses with their cocked tails but this is just my speculation. You’ll have to let me know which theory you think has the most conviction.

However, for now, it looks like speculation and hypothesizing is all the answer that we’ll really ever have as no one knows the answer for sure.


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