Cocktail, cocktail hour, cocktail party…those can be pretty sweet words for a lot of gay men. Cocktails are a way of imbibing alcohol in a way that seems both sophisticated and decadent. Too ‘limp-wristed’ for some guys they may be, but cocktails continue to have their immense appeal.
The list of cocktail names is countless, from the classics with terrific names like Singapore Sling, Tom Collins, Long Island Iced Tea and Harvey Wallbanger (that last one’s name surely getting any gay man’s imagination into overdrive!), as well as classics that everyone knows, from a Bloody Mary and Vodka Tonic to a Martini (or make that a Dirty Martini), and the good ol’ G&T. There are those that have become more popular on the cocktail circuit in recent years, like the Cosmopolitan (thanks to the Sex and the City gals, of course) and Appletini. Then there are the ones we easily associate with holidays in the sun or tacky all-night boozefests (Margaritas, Daquiris, Piña Coladas and Tequilas ahoy), not to mention the ones that just sound great, like B52, Cuba Libre, Kamikaze or Mai Tai.
The history of the cocktail is as varied and immensely fun as the number of cocktails that are in existence. No one’s really sure who invented the first cocktail or even where it happened. There is a well-known 1806 citation from the Balance and Columbian Repository, a political paper in Hudson, New York, that defined a cocktail as that mixture of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters that is akin to us today. Drink historians (yes, they exist!) Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, however, discovered something intriguing in an online newspaper database in which there was a mention of the word “cocktail” in a satirical item dating back to 1798. The word was used in a derogatory manner to describe a bunch of (no-good and drunk) British legislators getting sozzled at a London pub.
However, one of the most sensational (not to mention rather disgusting) origins of the word is alleged to date back to Francis Grose’s 1785 book, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, in which Grose defines a cocktail as when horse dealers would put a piece of ginger up a horse’s “fundament” (meaning…ummm…backside) so that the poor animal would be more likely to trot around with a raised tail (i.e. ‘a cocked tail’). I told you it was rather disgusting and certainly one of the most interesting compound nouns around, if true. You may never look at your cocktail the same way again – sorry about that!
The word really has very murky origins, which William Grimes summed it up in his landmark 1991 history of American mixology, Straight Up or On the Rocks, by stating that, “The word ‘cocktail’ … remains one of the most elusive in the language.” Whatever the unconfirmed history and origins of the cocktail, it remains synonymous with good times. In fact, cocktails have never been more popular than they are now. Jared Brown commented on this in The Telegraph in December 2012, when he commented how, “We are in the midst of a new Cocktail Renaissance, the like of which the world has never seen.”
So, why this endless and even growing appeal by so many people for cocktails? Perhaps it’s because it’s a way of drinking that seems somehow less ‘obvious’ and more ‘sly,’ even surreptitious. When you have a cocktail it’s like a little bit of naughty fun that gives you a buzz but doesn’t demand so much of you as do other alcoholic drinks, like wine or beer. You chug beer and drink wine but you simply sip a cocktail, right? Maybe that’s why so many gay guys scoff at cocktails, seeing them as somehow too ‘girly’. Who cares. There are plenty of us who get seduced by what a cocktail can do for us and how it makes us feel. Besides which, I defy anyone to have a large goblet of Long Island Ice Tea and come out the other side anything less than completely tipsy, happy as hell and ready for anyone!
I for one am glad that cocktails are not only still around but stronger than ever. Cocktails provide a unique vibe, whether at a large and swanky black-tie affair or just you and a friend. They can be enjoyed during hot, languid summer days or on dreary, cold winter nights. One of my personal favourites is also the tipple with my favourite name, namely Sex on the Beach. What gay man doesn’t want to relate to that name, huh? And it tastes good too.