A “liquid assault upon the inner man”

18 Aug

This brief article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal. The newspaper, it would seem, does not wholeheartedly approve of the cocktail phenomenon.

What is a cocktail?

The English call a glass of fresh foaming beer a cocktail. Americans drink almost innumerable mixtures under the name “cocktail”, many of them variations of the well-known and well-defined “Manhattan”, “Martini” or others which might be called standard cocktails. There is for those whose taste so inclines them a “soda cocktail”, made of soda water, sugar and bitters. There is also the oyster cocktail.

Americans in Europe and Asia, who are unwise enough to patronize “American bars”, so called, have encountered sundry mixtures wholly unfamiliar to the American palate, and wholly unpalatable, called cocktails. There is an “American bar” in Calcutta—if its proprietors are still unlynched—at which two rupees, the equivalent of 66 cents or thereabouts, is charged for a mixture mislabeled an “American Manhattan cocktail” and served in a brown glass that is made of white lead, linseed oil and coloring matter.

The “cocktail” is anything which any one chooses to mix and serve under an uncopyrighted name. It is, at its best, a very mixed drink, which no stickler for health and for healthful beverages can approve. At its worst it is a liquid assault upon the inner man with intent to commit mayhem. There are no legal proceedings under which any one can be stopped from calling any sort of mixture a cocktail. Its basis may be gin, whisky, champagne, hock, soda water, blue points, crème de menthe or anything else the maker may choose.

An unabridged dictionary or an accomplished drink mixer can tell you what some varieties of cocktails are, but all of the lexicographers and all of the bartenders in convention assembled could not tell what is in all cocktails.

The Spatula: An Illustrated Monthly Publication for Druggists, vol. 25 (1915-16), p. 60.

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