Nothing washes down a hard day's work — and numbs the senses — like a good old fashioned cocktail. However, what exactly is a cocktail? No one can say with certainty where the term originated. One of the most well-accepted origin stories is that it was a term located in a publication called The Balance and the Columbian Repository.
After a local election in Claverack, New York, the loser of the race decided to publish a mock list of expenses for his election that poked fun at his loss, which included "25 do. cock-tail." While he probably did not expect anyone to inquire further into his gag, a subscriber to the publication responded with a letter to the editor stating that he heard other phrases for drinking such as, "a forum, of phlegm-cutter and fog diver, of whetting the whistle, of moistening the clay, of a fillip, a spur in the head, quenching a spark in the throat," and "of flip & c." Admitting that he had never heard the term "cock tail" before, he asked if it was a dialect particular to a certain region of the country, or if it caused Democrats who drank them to have "topscurvy" and forced them to "have their heads where their tails should be?" The subscriber was more inclined to believe that the second explanation was true, but would await the writer's answer.
The editor responded with the definition of a cocktail as being these defiant words: "Cocktail then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters." The first three ingredients may seem common practice for almost all cocktails served today, but some may be slightly taken aback as to what exactly the ingredient called "bitters" are. Bitters can be thought of as the salt and pepper of cocktails. They add the finishing touches and flavors to a drink that help blend spirits together to create a simultaneously uniform and diverse taste. There are two main types of bitters used in cocktails today: angostura and orange. The amount of bitters used in cocktails are usually a very specific specific number of "dashes," of which the measurement itself is still debated, but like all good seasonings that are used in the proper amounts, it can make a good cocktail a great cocktail.
Television shows such as Mad Men, which feature a wide variety of cocktails that are not nearly as common today, have widened the bargoing public's palate to include much older cocktails that pay closer attention to mixing drinks together that are faithful to the cocktail's "original" definition.
Not that there is anything wrong with ordering of a frozen swirl margarita, but if you are feeling a bit old fashioned when frequenting your favorite establishment, or would like to try an actual Old Fashioned, consider ordering a drink that fits the oldest known definition of a cocktail. Who knows? Perhaps as the editor of The Balance, and Columbian Repository said, it is indeed, "to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else."