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sailor22

What is a Cocktail?

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sailor22

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...

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T Comp
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/Balance_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 :lol:) stay away from some of the other observations.

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sailor22

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.

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Gillman

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

Edited by Gillman

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squire

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.

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HighHorse

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!

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squire

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

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tanstaafl2

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

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... :cool:

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!

Edited by tanstaafl2
To give credit for the Airbag recipe

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RVTsteve

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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squire

Yeah, I keep 'em simple, can't remember the complicated recipes.

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smokinjoe

For the sake of clarity in this discussion on cocktails and their ingredients, would bourbon be considered a "spirit"? Or, is it a "juice"? Or, both? In the latter case, if you added BT Juice to a BT Spirit, would you indeed have a "cocktail"? Or, a simple vatting? If you combined a BT juice with Beam juice and 4R juice, would you call it Hawaiian Punch? Could you even name a cocktail containing an unknown juice, such as Willett? ;)

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sailor22

Crystal clear now - thanks Joe.:grin: If my buddy describes our waitress as "Juicy", now I know that makes her a Cocktail Waitress.

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squire

Bourbon is spirit to me Joe and I know all the stanzas to the Hymn.

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RVTsteve
Yeah, I keep 'em simple, can't remember the complicated recipes.

same, if it weren't in the name I'd have to look up what goes in a gin & tonic.

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Gillman

If a cocktail uses bourbon but the (distilling) origin is unknown, that is the perfect form of cocktail! That is the whole point of the drink, something of mixed origins whose identity is created by the mixture. So for anyone who has on hand any NDP bourbon they can't come to terms with, this is the perfect use.

I agree vatted spirits cannot be a cocktail if they are the same type, e.g. a vatting of malts only or bourbons only isn't a cocktail. (Indeed under the regs in the U.S. a mix of straight bourbons can be called straight bourbon full stop). But where the spirits are different, you have more than one ingredient, so... Where one is used in very minor form to add an accent, there is an argument it isn't a cocktail but just a flavored form of the principal spirit.

Gary

Edited by Gillman

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Gillman

As (I will hazard) one of the few on the forum to possess a bottle of Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum 57% ABV, I offer my nearly full bottle to the Gazebo table in April if others will bring the other ingredients.

We can re-dub the second cocktail tanstaafl2 mentioned, the NAFTA Giant.

Gary

Edited by Gillman

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sailor22

I know where one is on a shelf Gary - is it a must buy?

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squire

Gary it's my understanding Smith & Cross was designed to be a flavoring rum for blends and not really intended for drinking straight on it's own. How does that stuff taste?

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Gillman

True Squire, in the sense that it is a pot still spirit, so generally mingled with column still rum in the typical blend. On its own though, as here, it is more analogous to a bourbon, or a malt, or a Cognac.

It is very good, spicy and flowery with a faint "funky" note that may be from the wild yeasts I understand are used to ferment the molasses and water base of the spirit. The label can be read to suggest that two pot still productions, Plummer and Wedderburn, are used, but I understand the produce is from one pot still only and the difference is the proof each comes off at, so that one is heavier in body than the other. Some data:

http://www.alpenz.com/images/poftfolio/smithcross114rum.htm

Gary

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Gillman

Steve, it's difficult to say. I know of nothing else quite like it, so I would say yes.

Gary

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squire

That's the one Gary, should be a Sampler hit.

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Gillman

Done deal, I'm bringing it anyway, cocktail or no. :)

Gary

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squire

Steve, can you get Smith & Cross in Florida?

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sailor22

I saw one on in a shop a couple of hours from here - so I guess the answer is yes, maybe. That's the only place I have ever seen it and they only had one. It isn't here in Tallahassee.

I should check the proof on the one I saw to make sure it is the same bottling Gary is talking about.

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