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History of the cocktail : Jerry Thomas

This is a big question with a somewhat vague and complex answer: what is a cocktail and where does it come from?

The word "cocktail"

Let's start at the beginning, where does this famous word "cocktail" come from? The origin of the word "cocktail" is shrouded in mystery and many theories exist. Here are some of the theories:

  • Egg Cup: According to this theory, a French apothecary named Antoine Amedée Peychaud in New Orleans served a mixture of cognac and bitters in egg cups called "coquetier", which led to the word becoming "cocktail".
  • Cock's tail: Another theory suggests that the term comes from the English "cock's tail", referring to the bright and varied colors of the feathers of rooster. This theory could be linked to the colorful and attractive presentation of mixed drinks.
  • Mexican History: Another story tells that an American doctor traveling in Mexico tasted a local drink mixed with a plant called "cola de gallo" (rooster's tail). He would have brought this drink to the United States, and the term "cocktail" would have been anglicized.
  • Military History: Some suggest that the term "cocktail" originated from British and American soldiers during the American Revolutionary War, who drank a mixed drink to celebrate victory. This drink would have been served in a cup decorated with rooster feathers.
  • Livestock: Another theory is related to horse racing. The term "cocktail" would have been used to describe a mixed breed horse, called "cock-tail" because its tail was cut to stand up like a rooster's feather. By analogy, a mixed drink was called a "cocktail".
  • Coquetel: The word cocktail could find its origin in the word "coquetel", which was a specific drink served several centuries ago in an egg cup, hence the drink called cocktail.

The cocktail since its beginnings

If the origins of the word cocktail have never known the slightest certainty, on the other hand we know its first appearance.

The word would have appeared for the first time on May 3, 1806 in the New York newspaper "The Balance, and Columbian Repository", in which it is written "The cocktail is a stimulating drink composed alcohols of indifferent origins, sugar, water and bitters".

The meanings of the word "cocktail".

The word therefore appeared in 1806 to designate this precise mixture seen previously, and in 1862 Jerry Thomas published in his book "Bartenders Guide: How to mix them" the first "cocktail" recipes: Brandy cocktail, Gin cocktail, Whiskey cocktail or even Champagne Cocktail.

Then around 1920, the cocktail became the very general term we know today, namely a mixture of at least 2 drinks.

Jerry Thomas, the father of mixology.

It is impossible to tell the story of the cocktail without mentioning Jerry Thomas, who unfortunately many bartenders do not even know. In fact, Jerry Thomas is a bit for cocktails what Elvis is for rock...

Jerry Thomas (1830-1885) is considered the father of the cocktail, he did not invent it but introduced it to the world and made it known.

The "professor" Thomas is quite simply the first to publish the first book of cocktail recipes, it was in 1862 and it was this book entitled "Bartender's guide: How to mix drinks" which launched the cocktail.

It was Jerry Thomas who invented the Blue Blazer and the Tom & jerry. In his book he classifies cocktails according to families that have always remained relevant and theoretically learned in bar training schools: cobbler, egg nog, julep, flip or even sour.

Jerry Thomas is the bartender pictured above, performing his famous Blue Blazer.

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