According to Wikipedia (https://goo.gl/ddfrtD):
The first definition of cocktail known to be an alcoholic beverage appeared in The Balance and Columbian Repository (Hudson, New York) May 13, 1806; editor Harry Croswell answered the question, “What is a cocktail?”:
Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.
It was customary to dock the tails of horses that were not thoroughbred … They were called cocktailed horses, later simply cocktails. By extension, the word cocktail was applied to a vulgar, ill-bred person raised above his station, assuming the position of a gentleman but deficient in gentlemanly breeding. … Of importance [in the 1806 citation above] is … the mention of water as an ingredient. … Låftman concluded that cocktail was an acceptable alcoholic drink, but diluted, not a “purebred”, a thing “raised above its station”. Hence the highly appropriate slang word used earlier about inferior horses and sham gentlemen.
If I were a better writer – and if I was not enjoying a self-imposed ban on political commentary – I could not have made up anything better than the first description. How else can one explain the current election cycle? (this is written during the run-up to the 2016 American Presidential Election)
As for the second, I am no gentleman nor do I consider myself a sham. However, I do contain water.
My preferred definition of the word cocktail as we now consider it would be:
Any beverage that contains three or more ingredients if at least one of those ingredients is alcohol.
It has always been my understanding that the contemporary cocktail is an American invention created during prohibition. During that time, many otherwise law-abiding Americans were reduced to distilling their own booze, resulting is some rather unpalatable concoctions. To mask the foul taste of their bootlegged booze, they mixed it with other ingredients – and, thus, the modern cocktail was born.
Countless of today’s classic cocktails were birthed in those years. A short list:
There are, of course, mixed drinks that pre-date the American Prohibition era. Notably, the Martini and the Sazerac cocktail.
When it comes down to it, alcohol is yeast poop. I won’t spend a lot of time on this matter. I am mostly interested in the yummy ways that yeast poop can be combined with other ingredients to make something truly special.
This section will be devoted to recipes, the world-wide search for great cocktails, and general musings about drinking culture.
Cheers. Yam sing. Salud. Kanpai. Prost.