David Wondrich has moved on from the correct story (I believe — though he seems not to have understood the mixological reason) of why the American bittered sling was first called “cocktail.” He now prefers shoving ginger up horses’ asses (a trick to make them seem more lively for selling them.
The phenomenon of gingering is not connected to horses being called “cock-tail,” which appears in literature long before gingering does. The Oxford English Dictionary correctly, and simply, indicates that a cock-tail was a horse with its tail both docked (cut-short) and cocked up. This was done to mark a horse as being of mixed breed, even though it might have the qualities of a thoroughbred horse. All the way back in London’s Public Advertiser in 1758, one finds notice of a reward being offered for a missing “cock-tail” horse. Is Wondrich to have us believe that the owner just happened to shove ginger up the ass of a horse that he had no intent to sell the night it went missing? I find that laughable. In that same time frame, horses are described, sometimes for sale, as being “cock-tail” or “cut cock-tail.” If Wondrich were right that horses were called “cock-tail” in connection with gingering, it would mean that advertising a horse for sale in the 1760’s as being a cock-tail would be like telling someone you wanted to sell a car to that it had “sawdust in the transmission” (a trick in older cars to make a bad transmission run more smoothly for a while).
Another story surrounds a bit of confusing text from 1798 London in which a drink seems to be called cocktail. This has been suggested as a link to the better known American bittered sling tradtionally called cocktail. But, the same name for a drink has been applied many times to different drinks that had nothing to do with each other — often neither in essence or inspiration. When admiral Dewey was topical at the end of the Spanish-American way, at least two, totally different drinks where published bearing his name. The creators of each of these drinks were probably completely unaware of the other’s drink. There were actually several drinks called “Cosmopolitan” because of their array of ingredients from around the globe long before the more famous one came along that was named after the women’s magazine. Finding a common (non-genre-associated) word in the name of a drink is no proof that they are related to each other in any way.
In this post, I am dealing with the American cocktail drink, also known as the bittered sling, and why it would have made sense, mixologically-speaking, to an American around 1800 to call it a cocktail. Please read on.]