For me, the word “cocktail” always denotes balmy climes, whether this is due to the usual presence of garnish and ice, or the fact that cocktails by definition contain more than one ingredient, meaning those guys are mingling in the glass (aka a party). But many of these party-in-a-glass drinks can work well in frosty weather. In fact, some of the very earliest cocktails were more cold-weather affairs.
The Old Fashioned — a bourbon-based affair that has remained pretty much unchanged — was one of the first drinks to which the name cocktail was attached, in Kentucky in 1881. And it’s definitely a winter wonder. The very first cocktails of all, it seems, hailed from New York, in 1806. These were sans garnish, with plenty of sugar, bitters, containing any spirit at all, and devoid of anything festive. Cheering in Gulag circumstances perhaps, but otherwise pretty hardcore.
And why the word “cocktail”? I wondered about that until yesterday, and am still wondering. A whole bunch of different internet pages put forward one likely story behind the name: the tail of certain horses was chopped shorter, like a bob, so that it fanned out and looked (if you squinted, or had knocked back a few cocktails I suppose) like the fanned crest on the head of a cockerel. This hairstyle was only done on mongrel style or “mixed” heritage horses, which then became known by some as “cocktail” horses. So many ingredients meeting in a glass were naturally, cocktails. Another slightly more troubling explanation – still staying in horse territory – is that unscrupulous horse dealers would stick bits of ginger and spices up a horse’s behind upon exhibiting, so that the poor animal would “cock” or raise its tail, thereby apparently looking more, er, spirited.
Mongrel beverages, aka cocktails, are very much the way to drink at the moment. So much so that cocktail makers no longer respond to the name “bartender”. They’re now mixologists: they wear leather aprons, and must have tattoos, man-buns, and, possibly, thumb rings. They know more than chefs about herbs, and do, admittedly, make some damn fine concoctions. But mixologist? Sigh. I know the suffix “-ologist” denotes a field of study, and no doubt you can study the mixing of drinks, but I prefer my -ologist suffixes attached to words such as palaeontologist and ophthalmologist. Call me old fashioned.
WHERE TO GET THE BEST COCKTAILS IN JOZI:
My nominations for best cocktail spots in the city — that means both the cocktails and the actual spot are brilliant — are Mootee in Melville, Allado Lounge in Maboneng, Blind Tiger in Parkview, Sin + Tax in Rosebank, and the new Calexico Vinyl Lounge at 44 Stanley Avenue.