Cock-tail /käk-tāl/ noun: An alcoholic beverage containing one or more spirit mixed with juice, soda or other ingredients, often accented by additional ingredients, like fruit wedges, olives, or liqueurs.
According to Jared Brown in a detailed and well-researched article for the UK Telegraph in 2012, the drink called “cocktail” may or may not be an American invention. In early 17th century England, and later the nascent United States, the term was used to describe a horse whose tail had been cut short to indicate it was not a thoroughbred. The term’s transition to describing a variety of mixed alcoholic beverages is rather muddled, to borrow another bartending term.
The word referring to a drink and not a horse appeared in a newspaper in London in 1798, then in the United States in a book called “The Farmer’s Cabinet” in 1803. Around 1850, the French-born apothecary Antoine Amédie Peychaud was making bitters and serving it mixed with brandy to his customers in New Orleans. He measured and served these drinks in eggcups—we use jiggers today—the French word for which is coquetier, pronounced /käk-ə-ti-ā/. Peychaud’s customers came to refer to his medicinal drinks as “cock-tays,” a slight mispronunciation that most likely morphed over time into “cocktails.”
In 1862, charismatic New York bartender Jerry Thomas published his “Bar-Tender’s Guide,” alternately titled “How to Mix Drinks” or “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.” This was the first drink book published in the U.S., and it remains a staple for mixologists in today’s cocktail renaissance.