History of the Cocktail

The earliest use of the term ‘cocktail’ was in 1798, in the Morning Post and Gazetteer, a London newspaper of the time. The article was about the landlord of the Axe & Gate Tavern after winning the lottery. He erased the regular bar tabs in exchange, the paper then wrote a satirical article on who owed what. One of the accounts was:

“William Pitt the younger owed for “L’huile de Venus”, “perfait [sic] amour”, and a less French drink: “‘cock-tail’ (vulgarly called ginger).”

Just exactly what that meant is not fully known because at that time ‘cocktail’ referred to a horse with its tail cut short, to symbolise it was of mixed breeds. Another suggestion is that ‘cock-tail’ is a mix of gin and ginger syrup.

The first written definition of a cocktail appeared in a New York newspaper in 1806. This was in response to a reader query when the word was used in the previous edition. They defined a cocktail as:

“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. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate because, a person having swallowed a glass of it is read to swallow anything else.”

The first cocktail recipe book was written in 1862 by Jerry Thomas, someone who is often referred to as the American father of modern bartending. Before heading to the USA he worked in London, during this period the USA became more prosperous and the number of tourists heading over to London increased. This lead to American style cocktail bars to open. After prohibition came started American bar tenders came over to London. This saw the rise in another famous name of the time Harry Craddock, who became the American Bar at the Savoy’s head barman.


Although it is never completely clear where the cocktail first originates from, it is very clear that it has stood the test of time and is more popular than ever today.


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