By Joey Goar
The word cocktail refers to pretty much any mixture of liquids – and sometimes even foods now. When the word was first invented however, it referred to a very specific mixture. It was first defined as a mixture of water, sugar, spirits and bitters. The cocktail was the very first “hair of the dog” morning-after cure.
Throughout most of history, alcohol has been an essential part of the diet for most cultures. The stigma surrounding its consumption has only popped up in the last two hundred or so years. People would drink different types of alcohol either in place of water, or alongside it.
Have you ever looked at a pool of stagnant water? It gets slimy from algae, and all sorts of things grow in it that one should not have in their system. Drinking stagnant water, or even water from a natural body of water is like risking gastrointestinal Armageddon. Alcohol helped to kill the different harmful parasites and bacteria in this water.
Beer and mead were the earliest forms of alcohol consumed, and the alcohol in them served to keep any of these unsavory creatures from growing.
Fast forward several hundred years, and you have distilled spirits. People would consume alcohol not only to survive, but to also relax and have fun. As with all types of fun, sometimes you overdo it – enter the cocktail. Spirits were mixed with a little water for hydration, bitters for their medicinal qualities and a little sugar to take the edge off. One would consume a cocktail in the morning to get back into fighting shape to face the day.
The origination of the word is somewhat murky. There are several stories as to how the mixture got its name. The following story is one of my favorites.
Betsy Flanagan was an innkeeper during the revolutionary war. She was quite a little spitfire. One day she stole a cock (a rooster, folks) from a British loyalist during the war and roasted it. She then festooned the beverages of the night with the tail feather of the cock, serving meal and drinks to American soldiers in her inn.
As more mixed cocktails began to emerge and the general public started drinking more recreationally, people started using cocktail as a general term. The original cocktail was henceforth referred to as the old fashioned cocktail.
Sometime after the end of prohibition, the cocktail made its transition to what most people know now. Since most people were not able to drink during prohibition, the general public lost their taste for stiff drinks. Oranges and cherries were added in to further sweeten and soften the drink to make it more appealing to the masses. This version of the cocktail is what people call an old fashioned.
I like to make drinks the way they were first created, but I also like to experiment just a tad. One of my latest creations is a twist of the original cocktail. I call it a candied banana old fashioned. Bourbon serves as the base spirit, with a banana liqueur instead of sugar, whiskey barrel aged bitters and candied bananas as a garnish. Come check out some of my creations sometime at the cocktail bar inside The Cove!