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  1. #1
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    What is a Cocktail?

    I'm pretty sure if it's served with a miniature umbrella it is by definition a cocktail. Multiple fruit juices are another tip off.
    Assuming there isn't a legal classification for spirits called cocktails it's fun to consider the working definition.

    If a cocktail is Whiskey with a flavoring agent added does that make something like American Honey or Red Stag a bottled cocktail? They are obviously flavored whiskeys but isn't that what a Manhattan or an Old fashioned is?

    When you finish a whiskey in a Port or Sherry or Cognac barrel aren't you just slowly adding those flavors to the whiskey? Does that make the finished Scotch and Whiskeys a cocktail of sorts? Angels Envy a Bourbon Cocktail? McCallan 12 a Scotch Cocktail?

    Suppose you vat a Rye and a Bourbon? Bourbon and Rum? Rye and Vermouth? Are they cocktails or creative vatings? Or both?

    If you soak a cherry in Brandy for a few weeks and then drop it into a pour of Bourbon is it a minimalist cocktail or a whiskey with a cherry?




    ya'll have fun out there...

  2. #2
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    Here is one very early answer (1806), see page 146, the editor's reply to the letter from a reader asking the same thing:

    http://www.imbibemagazine.com/images..._5-13-1806.pdf

    Gary

  3. #3
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    Here is one very early answer (1806), see page 146, the editor's reply to the letter from a reader asking the same thing:

    http://www.imbibemagazine.com/images..._5-13-1806.pdf

    Gary
    Great read Gary! I'm going with "composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters" as the answer...and...since I don't want to start a PR & C thing (you know that whole Hamilton -Jefferson thing ) stay away from some of the other observations.
    Thad

    BTOTY-2011

  4. #4
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    I'm guessing they didn't have mini umbrellas back than or they would have been mentioned.

    By that definition anything without bitters isn't a cocktail. So all those fruity Rum drinks are......?

    I like the guess that Cock-tale must refer to the drinks effect on some portion of the anatomy. Pretty racy for a published piece given the date.

  5. #5
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    I agree. And those times were much closer to Puritan settlement days than today. Funny how things are in that respect.

    Originally, cocktails were distinguished by use of bitters but later they expanded into a much broader range of mixed drinks. Wikipedia states that a cocktail is a mix of at least three ingredients, one of which at least must be a spirit. The rest can be juices, wines, fortified liquors, creams, chocolate, herbs, other flavorings. My view is today, a cocktail is usually a short drink of this nature, and a tall one where a spirit and a soda pop (including tonic water) are combined is more properly a mixed drink.

    I would say a mix of spirits only is a cocktail including bourbon and rye, in technical terms.

    Although you didn't ask Steve, based on the many theories I've read as to the origin of the term itself, I think it comes from the term cocktail as used in horseracing circles in the 1700's and 1800's. It meant, a mixed breed equine. Apparently their tails were cocked to show that they weren't purebreds. And we all know that sporting circles went with alcohol, and often still do (not the performers but the audience of course!). The term cocktails was, per Wikipedia again, first used in England in the sense of a mixed drink and the horseracing term comes from there too, so it just makes sense to me.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 01-06-2013 at 09:29.

  6. #6
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    A cocktail is a drink for those who wish to imbibe without tasting straight liquor. For me it's a combination of three or four ingredients shaken with ice and served in a stemmed cocktail glass.

    A useful formula is 3-2-1 diminishing in 50% increments. For example, two ounces of Barton, one ounce of peach brandy (liqueur) and 1/2 ounce each of orange juice and pomegranate juice. The juices can be one or two, it's the proportions that count.

    Shaken, not stirred. Why, you ask? Because shaking makes the drink colder and is more fun.

  7. #7
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    For me it's an invention to enable consumers to purchase otherwise undrinkable liquor. (and purveyors to sell more of it!) I guess that it's a nice respite for one who aches for something different once in a while .. just can't remember when that last happened to me. From time to time I'll simply order vodka with three olives and that suffices as a cocktail. The cocktail also provides fun drinks for folk looking for a way to remove inhibitions ... and for that I have in the past been thankful. (and rueful) Lord bless the bartenders!

  8. #8
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    Ah yes, vodka rocks, the cocktail no bartender can screw up.

  9. #9
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    To quote myself from the rum thread, the history is generally as Gillman said.

    Quote Originally Posted by tanstaafl2 View Post
    Back when the word cocktail had a separate definition (early 1800's) as one of the many categories of alcoholic drinks (to include slings, fizzes, flips, punches, juleps, sours, etc.) a cocktail was defined as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters".

    Now that a cocktail is broadly used to cover all types of drinks the use of the term "old fashioned" was essentially used to describe the original style of the cocktail, i.e. the "old fashioned cocktail" of the definition above.

    Also now that a cocktail is more typically and broadly defined as almost any alcoholic drink it is less clear. More common current definitions include "an iced drink of distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients" or "an alcoholic mixed drink that contains three or more ingredients—at least one of the ingredients must be a spirit".

    A spirit being defined on Wiki as an alcoholic beverage containing ethanol that is produced by distilling ethanol produced by means of fermenting grain, fruit, or vegetables. This excludes undistilled fermented beverages such as beer, wine or cider. Although some definitions of a cocktail will include wine as a potential base spirit and some older cocktails used wine as a base spirit. It is perhaps a bit less common today to use wine but it no doubt still occurs.

    Under that definition a vatting of spirits only doesn't really seem to fit well although if you counted one spirit as the base and the others as "flavorings" I guess you could fudge it.

    To me it's a bit like pornography. I know it when I see it...
    Also, present day cocktail practice generally says that it may be shaken or stirred, usually depending on the ingredients. Usually a drink that includes a juice or a "cloudy" ingredient is shaken with ice while a drink made with "clear" ingredients like the Winter Waltz I posted would be stirred with ice. It is not an absolute rule though by any means. Today's cocktails have also gotten far more involved than what can be covered by a simple 3-2-1 rule. A few good examples that I like that follow no particular rule include two from the beta cocktails book:

    Teenage Riot
    1.5 Rittenhouse rye
    1.5 Cynar
    0.5 Dolin Dry Vermouth
    0.5 Lustau Dry Amontillado Sherry
    2 dashes Regan's orange bitters
    Stir with ice (made with all clear ingredients) and serve up with a flamed lemon twist


    This next one has that great interplay between rum and bourbon
    Transatlantic Giant
    1.5 Buffalo Trace bourbon (I typically sub ETL)
    0.5 Smith & Cross rum (accept no substitute!)
    0.5 Cynar
    0.5 Plymouth Sloe Gin (off brand sloe gin tends to be a bit syrupy sweet)
    3 dashes Angostura bitters
    Stir with ice and serve up in a coupe

    And perhaps one of my all time favorites even though it lacks whiskey
    Airbag
    1 Reposado tequila (the original creator recommended El Tesoro. I usually sub other highland tequilas like Espolon, Don Julio or El Mayor)
    0.5 Batavia Arrack
    0.5 Mezcal (the creator recommended Los Amantes Joven Mezcal. I typically use Sombra)
    0.75 Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
    0.25 St. Elizabeth All Spice Dram
    0.25 Benedictine
    Dash or so of Chocolate Mole Bitters
    Stir with ice and serve up

    Here is what the creator, Philip Ward who used to be at Death & Co. and may still be for all I know, noted about the name.

    "We have a saying about driving drinks off the cliff, well as I came up with this one I was thinking this was one hell of a car crash if I'd ever seen one. I call it the Airbag Cocktail because it seemed a car crash in which no one died and (don't laugh until you try it) is actually really tasty."

    I would have to agree. Tasty it is!
    Last edited by tanstaafl2; 01-06-2013 at 10:46. Reason: To give credit for the Airbag recipe
    That yella whiskey runnin' down my throat like honey dew vine water and I took another slash…

    Nullum Gratuitum Prandium
    Ne Illegitimi Carborundum

  10. #10
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    Re: What is a Cocktail?

    I don't think aging or finishing in a barrel fits the bill but the others certainly could have an argument, particularly when you start mixing spirits made from different sources, i.e. vermouth, brandy and rum vs. whiskey. I like the the cherry question, I think that might come down to how much brandy gets in there and if you stir it to combine the flavors, otherwise it's just a garnish.

    For me a cocktail is a spirited drink consisting of at least two ingredients, namely spirits and bitters. For example a classic Pink Gin is simply gin and bitters, although since you stir it with ice I suppose you could argue water as a third.

    I usually prefer simple cocktails like manhattans and sazeracs and so I stir cocktails that don't require shaking, like those with egg or with already cloudy or opaque ingredients. It gets things just as cold with perhaps just a little more effort than shaking while keeping the clarity of the ingredients and using a chilled glass is even better, I prefer a small rocks glass or stemmed saucer, not a fan of the traditional martini glasses.

    cheers!

 

 

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