Getting to the bottom of cocktail names
Had the original cocktail first been mixed somewhere along the Texas Gulf Coast, there’s a fair chance the afternoon ritual so many impatiently look forward to every day would be known as the pelican plume hour.
Perhaps area bartenders would be known by their creative gull tails. Heaven forbid that the finest hotels in Galveston would encourage guests to enjoy their grackle feather lounge.
The world, fortunately, has been mixing its alcoholic beverage concoctions far longer than Texas has been serving whiskey in a glass (out of a jug, maybe not so much). In fact, by the time Texans began mixing something with that whiskey, the word cocktail had become so well associated with imbibing, few confused their afternoon thirst with the rear-end plumage of a male chicken.
But doesn’t one wonder how the art of mixology and a rooster’s butt came to have anything in common?
True, the actual origin of the word cocktail has been shrouded in time. Some historians say it began in Europe during the 19th or even 18th century, but others give credit to colonial America. The American camp points out a common practice in public houses and taverns of sticking a rooster feather in drinks as a way to let teetotalers know which ones had alcohol. It was also a way to keep track of a customer’s tab by counting feathers.
By the time a fellow stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni, it was a sign to cut him off.
The European camp believes the word was simply adopted from horse speak — a cocktailed horse having a docked tail that made it stand up like a rooster’s. Horses with docked tails were used in hunting and for pulling carriages and were usually mixed-breed equines, thus an adulterated alcoholic drink was referred to as a cocktail, i.e. it wasn’t pure.
In between the two, are those who believe early mixed drinks were made with the last of the alcohol left in the barrel, thus the reason for mixing it with something. This sludge at the bottom of the cask was called “tailings” and was drained through the spigot, often called a cock stop. Thus one had a drink of cock tailings, which, for obvious reasons, was sold at a bargain.
One thing all theories seem to have in common is the direct connection to the bottom of something, be it the posterior end of bird or beast or a near-empty barrel. It adds an interesting thought to what one says one feels like after over indulging.
With such a colorful and undetermined heritage, cocktails have carried on the legacy by sporting names almost as interesting and amusing as the drink itself. The famed Tom Collins, for example, is now a very well known and popular cocktail. But back in 1874, he was a fictitious character being hunted through the streets of New York.
According to the story, a group of practical jokers hanging around the taverns would convince an unsuspecting victim that a certain Tom Collins had been in the bar besmirching his good name. With encouragement from the jokesters, the slandered gentleman would set off to find Mr. Collins to seek redress. Other bars would continue the joke by saying Mr. Collins had just departed to another bar (and probably suggesting he purchase a drink to calm himself), then on it would go. There were obviously enough gullible people in New York for the joke to continue for many years. It wasn’t long before bartenders, for laughs, invented a citrus cocktail called the Tom Collins, and boisterous drinkers made a game of going from bar to bar to find it.
Seek out almost any bar worth its salt on a margarita glass, and there’s one or more specialty drinks with a name demanding an explanation.
One has to look no further than at Number 13 Steakhouse, 7809 Broadway in Galveston, where it may take a flip of coin to decide on the Texas Julep or the Swamp Donkey. Bar Manager Nicholas Stephenson is responsible for concocting both as well as naming them.
“The Texas Julep is pretty simple,” he says, explaining that it’s simply a version of the traditional Southern mint julep, but using Texas bourbon from Garrison Brothers.
The Swamp Donkey, on the other hand, truly has the spirit of the cocktail in mind.
“It’s kind of a spin on a mojito and it’s served in a Moscow Mule cup, so that’s where the donkey comes in,” Stephenson said. “It has rum, simple syrup and lime in it, then we add some green chartreuse. The chartreuse makes it kind of green like a swamp, so that’s where the rest of the name was added.”
Speaking of the Moscow Mule, the origin and history of that drink is one for the books. It is said to have been invented in the late 1930s or early 1940s by John Martin, head of G.F. Heublein & Bros. and owner of Smirnoff Vodka, and Jack Morgan, owner of a pub named the Cock’n Bull on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. The Cock’n Bull was well known for a house brand of ginger beer, which is a principle ingredient in the cocktail. The two created a special copper cup for the drink and then started a national campaign to promote the drink — thus selling more Smirnoff. By 1950, sales of the vodka tripled.
Unfortunately, the 1950s swept in Sen. Joe McCarthy and the great communist purge. Having something made with “Russian” vodka named the Moscow Mule was an advertising nightmare. Sales plummeted, boycotts were started and soon representatives of Smirnoff were testifying before Congress. When the dust settled, people learned the vodka wasn’t really Russian but American and no one at Smirnoff was a practicing communist.
While downing several Moscow Mules would not be proof you’d been to Russia, finishing off a few Monument Meltdowns, a margarita-styled drink, or a Lynchburg Peach, made with peach schnapps and lemonade, is a sure sign one has visited La Porte. The Monument Inn’s Michael Laws is one of a team of Monument mad hatters who devise new drinks for the historic restaurant. Most names tie into the locality, such as the Texas Bloody Mary made with Absolut Peppar and the Monument Inn’s own Bloody Mary.
“These really sell very well, and we have fun coming up with them,” Laws said. “It’s something we want to do a lot more of.”
People like the appeal of relating the drink to something they are familiar with, such as the nearby Lynchburg Ferry, Laws said.
Considering the horsetail theory about the origin of cocktail, one might wager the Belmont Blue drink at The Tremont House in Galveston’s downtown is a reference to the third horse race of the Triple Crown. Better luck wagering on the horses.
Actually, the Belmont Blue is another great example of cocktail names being more than they appear. Served in both the Toujouse Bar and The Rooftop Bar in the luxurious hotel, the Belmont Blue is named after the hotel’s Belmont Suites. These suites are in the east section of the building, which dates back to 1873 and was converted into a hotel in 1909. It began as the Royal Hotel, then later as the Palmetto House Hotel. From 1968 until it was damaged by fire in 1979, it was the Belmont Hotel. The Tremont, encompassing the old hotel, opened in 1985 with the renovated suites taking on the Belmont moniker. Two bars and a luxury suite? Maybe that is a triple crown.
2 ounces Absolut Citron
Splash of triple sec
Splash of orange juice
Splash of pineapple juice
Splash of Sweet n Sour
1 tablespoon Peach Schnapps (Floater)
Garnish with a peach wedge
Combine the first five ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Carefully pour the schnapps into a cocktail glass and top with ice. Strain the ingredients from the shaker over the ice. Garnish and serve.
– Recipe courtesy of Monument Inn in La Porte