Today is a special day for any cocktail geek: World Cocktail Day.
On this day in 1806, The Balance and Columbian Repository, an upstate New York newspaper, published the first known definition of the word "cock-tail", in response to a reader's query on an article. For a long time, it was cocktail lore that The Balance could also claim the first printed use of the word. Yet at least two earlier occurrences are known to exist, the first in London's Morning Post and Gazetteer (1798), in a satirical comment on the then-Prime Minister, William Pitt, and a second in a US agricultural handbook called The Farmer's Cabinet (1803).
The Balance and Columbian Repository, 13/May/1806 (image courtesy simple-cocktails.com)
That first 1798 Morning Post reference is within a piece, titled "Old Scores" that lists purchases by patrons of a Whitehall on "the corner of Downing Street", the publican of which is said to have won the lottery, so wiped his slate clean, cancelling customers' debts. Included in this list are purchases made by "Mr. Pitt" and specifically a "cock-tail" (vulgarly called ginger).
Morning Post and Gazetteer, 20/Mar/1798
Where did the word come from? Well, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the original use of 'cocktail' was to describe a horse with a tail like a cock's - that is to say, a docked tail, which stuck up, rather than hung down. That came to mean a racehorse that was mixed - not thoroughbred. It's likely that it's this sense of 'cocktail' that came to mean a mixed or an 'adulterated' drink.
Whatever the truth of the matter, we are marking today with an Old-Fashioned, a style of cocktail that most closely matches The Balance's famous description of it as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters."
This day in 1931, Giuseppe Cipriani first opened one of the world's great classic bars - Harry's Bar in Venice - using money paid back to him by a wastrel heir named Harry Pickering.
Pretty much every celebrated barfly has passed through Harry's in its time: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker and more. And Harry's remains a place of pilgrimage for drinks aficionados passing through Venice.
Harry's is, of course, the home of the Bellini, that eminently likeable blend of fresh peach and Prosecco, which is exactly what we are drinking today. Italian white peaches are just in season now, so for added authenticity, pop out and source a few to make your own purée. Happy Birthday, Harry's! Have a good one.
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