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The origin of the cocktail. Part 4: Historically interesting recipes

The origin of the cocktail.

In the search for the origin of the cocktail, one finds interesting historical recipes that provide important insights. We have compiled them and analyse what can be deduced from them.

Third intermediate review

We have found that non-purebred horses were characterised by a shortened tail. They carried it higher as a result and were called cocktails. To make the horses appear racier, a piece of ginger was pushed into their anus, also to make them stand up their tails. This is how ginger was eventually called a cocktail. But ginger was also put into drinks, and so the name cocktail was also applied to these drinks. But one thing is still unclear: if a drink with ginger was now called a cocktail, why is the American cocktail always prepared without ginger? So is our derivation not correct? In this context, we will analyse historical cocktail recipes in the next section.

Historically interesting recipes


Cocktails. William Terrington, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, 1869, page 190-191.
Cocktails. William Terrington, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, 1869, page 190-191. [1-190] [1-191]

While we have established that in England a cocktail was a drink made with ginger, we also know that the American cocktail was made without ginger. So how do the two fit together? Is there an evolutionary link? Without this, our theory remains interesting, but without being confirmed by practical examples.Well, this evolutionary link exists and it seems incomprehensible to us why it has not yet been dealt with in detail in the secondary literature, because this example is the key to understanding the history of cocktails. We found it in William Terrington’s 1869 book Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks. On pages 190 to 191 he gives his definition of a cocktail. At first glance, these recipes look very strange, confusing and incomprehensible. One thinks that the author simply did not understand what a cocktail is, whereas everybody else believes that a cocktail consists of a spirit of any kind, sugar, water and bitters. That’s what happened to us when we first came across the recipe a long time ago, but when you put the pieces of the puzzle together, you inevitably realise that William Terrington is right and everyone else is wrong. Well, that’s how it is sometimes. But first, let’s talk about the recipe. William Terrington writes:

COCKTAILS are compounds very much used by
“early birds” to fortify the inner man, and by those
who like their consolations hot and strong. “Cock-
tail” is not so ancient an institution as Juleps, &C.,
but, with its next of kin, “Crusta,” promises to
maintain its ground.
Brandy or Gin Cocktail. – 1/4 pint of brandy or
gin, 1 gill of Curaçoa, 1 tablespoonful of bitters, 1/2 gill
of ginger syrup, 1 pint of ice; mix with a spoon;
moisten the rim of the tumbler with juice of lemon.
Brandy Do. – 1/4 pint of brandy, 2 fluid drachms
of essence of ginger; sweeten to taste, and fill up
with hot water.
Whisky Do. – Piece of lemon-peel, 2 fluid
drachms of tincture of calumba, 2 drops tincture of
capsicum, 4 gill of whisky; infuse these, and strain;
add 1 pint of ice; or drink warm, if preferred.
Whisky Cocktail. – 1/2 gill of whisky, 1 tea-
spoonful of bitters, 2 drops essence of cinnamon;
sweeten with syrup; add 1/2 lb. of ice, pounded.
Cider Cocktail. – 1 pint of good cider, sweetened
to taste, slice of lemon, 1/2 pint of shaven ice, or iced
aërated water; 1 drop of tincture of calumba:
further improved by a tablespoonful of Curaçoa. [1-190] [1-191]

These are truly interesting recipes! If we summarise the core statements, the following picture emerges:

1. he prepares a Brandy Cocktail and Gin Cocktail with a whole teaspoon of bitters, to which he adds ginger syrup.

2. he prepares a Brandy Cocktail alternatively with ginger essence and fills it up with hot water.

3. he prepares a Whisky Cocktail with calumba tincture and capsicum tincture, and one may also drink this drink warm.

4. he prepares a Whisky Cocktail alternatively with a whole teaspoon of bitters.

5. the Cider Cocktail also contains Kalumba tincture.

Why are his recipes the evolutionary link? The attentive reader of the previous chapters may already be aware of one or two things:

1. A teaspoon of bitters is used because this is in the English tradition of how bitters were taken: a teaspoon in a drink of one’s choice.

2. Ginger is used. There are echoes of the English past: a cocktail was a drink with ginger. One might argue that not all of his recipes contain ginger, but we must not forget that we are in 1869, and the knowledge that a cocktail should contain ginger was for the most part certainly already lost and or only known to a few. At that time, there was already a lively exchange with American bartenders, and since they did not use ginger, this had become established as the general standard.

3. A capsicum tincture is also used. What should one do with this information? Up to now, there has always been talk of ginger. But here, too, there is a connection with horse breeding. Not only ginger or live eels were used, but also chilli peppers. [3] These belong to the genus Capsicum, and capsaicin is the active ingredient that makes them hot. We already discussed this alternative in the last chapter, including its use in drinks. At this point we should also refer again to William Crawford from Pennylvania, who reports that in the years after the Revolution he usually drank a “‘Cock-tail’ with pepper in it”, i.e. a cocktail with chilli. [14] So William Terrington’s recipe does not seem to be that unusual.

4. Columba tincture is a bitter made from the plant Jateorhiza palmata. One drank such a tincture in the morning and in the evening to strengthen oneself, so it is comparable to Stoughton’s elixir.[4] [5]

5. The cocktails are also prepared warm or even infused with hot water. What this means and why it is written here will be discussed in a later chapter. Here, only this much should be said in advance: There is a connection with the punch.

Ginger is also brought into play elsewhere. In “The Comic Almanack”, published in London in 1842, a scene is described involving a strenuous winter climb up Primrose Hill. The narrator explains that he was offered a “ginger cocktail” by a “child of the mountain”: „He was evidently a child of the mountain, and proffered for sale an article he termed “ginger cocktail,” which he assured us would prove most palatable.“ The fact that a ginger cocktail, and not just a cocktail, is explicitly mentioned can be explained as follows according to Gary Gillman: In 1842, people had probably already heard of American cocktails, and the author was referring here to a Gregorian curiosity that was certainly still familiar to older readers, and in which something old-fashioned was seen. This fits the setting, he thinks, because miners everywhere are known for holding on to traditions that elsewhere would have been discarded long ago. [7] [8] Whether Gary Gillman is right here to regard Primerose Hill as so backwoods may be doubted, for it is not that remote. The hill offers an uninterrupted view of central London and is now part of the London Borough of Camden. It was once part of King Henry VIII’s hunting ground. In 1842, the year the comic Almanack appeared, an Act of Parliament secured the land as public space. Later, the area was also built on, and parts of it consist mainly of Victorian-era houses. Primerose Hill has always been one of the most elegant neighbourhoods in the urban belt that lies between the core of London and the suburbs, and its residents are known for being wealthy. Primrose Hill is an archetypal example of a successful London urban village, a “London village”. [9] Due to its proximity to London, we do not believe that a ginger cocktail was something so backwoods, but entirely in the English tradition, for why else would William Terrington have added ginger to one of his cocktail recipes in 1869, even if it had not been drunk in England at that time?

There are other interesting recipes. One can be found in the book “Cups and Their Customs” by George Edwin Roberts and Henry Porter, published in 1863. On page 50 they report on what drink the hunter puts in his hip flask: [2-50] [2-51]

George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter - Cups And Their Customs, 1863 - Recipe for a Hunting-flask.
George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter – Cups And Their Customs, 1863 – Recipe for a Hunting-flask. [2-50] [2]

Recipe for a Hunting-flask.
As to the best compound for a hunting-flask, it will
seldom be found that any two men perfectly agree; yet,
as a rule, the man who carries the largest, and is most
liberal with it to his friends, will be generally esteemed
the best concocter. Some there are who prefer to
all others a flask of gin into which a dozen cloves have
been inserted, while others, younger in age and more
fantastic in taste, swear by equal parts of gin and
noyeau, or of sherry and Maraschino. For our own
part, we must admit a strong predilection for a pull at
a flask containing a well-made cold punch, or a dry
Curaçoa. Then again, if we take the opinion of our
huntsman, who (of course) is a spicy fellow, and ought
to be up in such matters, he recommends a piece of
dry ginger always kept in the waistcoat pocket; and
does not care a fig for anything else. So much for
difference of taste; but as we have promised a recipe,
the one we venture to insert is specially dedicated to
the lovers of usquebaugh, or “the crathur:” it was a
favourite of no less a man than Robert Burns, and one
we believe not generally known; we therefore hope it
will find favour with our readers, as a wind-up to our
To a quart of whisky add the rinds of two lemons,
an ounce of bruised ginger, and a pound of ripe
white currants stripped from their stalks. Put these
ingredients into a covered vessel, and let them stand
for a few days; then strain carefully, and add one
pound of powdered loaf sugar. This may be bottled
two days after the sugar has been added.

Robert Burns lived between 1759 and 1796, so this recipe dates from at least the end of the 18th century. You use a spirit, whisky, and add ginger and sugar. We will leave out the currants for a moment. Here, too, we see: If you also add water and bitters, you basically get a cocktail! This may serve as further proof that cocktails were already conceivable in England in the 18th century. This recipe is basically nothing more than a whisky-based ginger liqueur to which currants have been added.

Interesting in “Cups and Their Customs” is another recipe on page 50, one for a ginger brandy: [2-50]

George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter - Cups And Their Customs, 1863 - Recipe for Ginger Brandy.
George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter – Cups And Their Customs, 1863 – Recipe for Ginger Brandy. [2-50]

Recipe for Ginger Brandy.
To each bottle of brandy add two ounces of the best
ginger bruised; let it stand for a week; then strain
the liquid through muslin, and add a pound of finely
powdered sugar-candy. This should be kept at least
one year.

It should be added at this point that ginger brandy is also something old. It is also found, for example, in Cassel’s Domestic Dictionary from 1800:

Cassells Domestic Dictionary, 1800 - Ginger-brandy.
Cassells Domestic Dictionary, 1800 – Ginger-brandy. [10]

„Ginger-brandy is a
warm stimulant, generally used medicinally.
It is made by mixing ginger and sugar with
brandy, and then boiling the preparation for
use. The juices of fruit, such as currants or
cherries, may be added, if desired, to impart
more flavour to the liquor.“

So here we find the explanation why currants are also added in Robert Burns’ recipe mentioned above: To improve the taste.

For the ginger-brandy, too, it can be said that here we have a drink made of spirit, sugar and ginger. If you add water and bitters, you basically have a cocktail in the English sense!

The Scots Magazine. 1802, Seite 856-857.
The Scots Magazine. 1802, Seite 856-857. [15-856] [15-857]

Like bitters, ginger was also considered a medicine, and we will give two examples here as examples. In 1802 it is written:”As bowel complaints are at present more prevalent than has ever been remembered, a medical correspondent recommends the following safe and certain cure: … Boiled meat, and toast and water, should be taken at dinner, and a small tumbler of weak brandy and water warm, with ginger, previous to the patient retiring to rest.[15-856] [15-857]

In 1831 Moritz Hasper wrote “On the treatment with beriberi. In mild cases Christie recommended Calomel with Squilla, or with other diuretic agents, and the promotion of perspiration and other discharges by drinks and small doses of Antimonium, or by the well-known James powder, and finally to strengthen the forces, for which he used liqueurs, especially those prepared from ginger, gin punch, which at the same time promoted the effects of Squilla. By these remedies the symptoms are often removed within a few days, with the exception of the falling asleep of the extremities, which usually remains for some time.[16-518]

Moritz Hasper: Ueber die Natur und Behandlung der Krankheiten der Tropenländer. 1831, page 518.
Moritz Hasper: Ueber die Natur und Behandlung der Krankheiten der Tropenländer. 1831, page 518. [16-518]

– “Von der Behandlung mit Beriberi. In den mildern Fällen empfahl Christie Calomel mit Squilla, oder mit andern diuretischen Mitteln und Beförderung der Perspiration und anderer Ausleerungen durch Getränke und kleine Dosen Antimonium, oder durch das bekannte Jamespulver, und endlich die Kräfte zu stärken, wozu er Liqueure, besonders die von Ingwer bereiteten, gin punch, welcher zugleich sie Wirkungen der Squilla befördere, anwendete. Durch diese Mittel werden die Symptome oft innerhalb weniger Tage entfernt, mit Ausnahme des Einschlafens der Extremitäten, das gewöhnlich längere Zeit noch zurückbleibt.[16-518]

Another interesting recipe concerns the use of bitters. In Mrs. Houstoun’s 1850 book “Hesperos: Or, Travels in the West” we read on page 13 and 14: [6-13] [6-14]

Hesperos - Or, Travels in the West by Mrs. Houstoun, 1850. Page 13-14.
Hesperos – Or, Travels in the West by Mrs. Houstoun, 1850. Page 13-14. [6-13] [6-14]

And to remain all day and half the night in the saloon, watching the ever-changing sea, and amused at the strange variety of human life on board. Some played at chess, and others whist, for hours together, and all in perfect silence, wrapped up in their game, though often obliged to hold on with all their might to their seats, when the lurches of the ship rendered them anything but secure. The Americans kept up their national character for liquoring, and were, I must say, by far the most cheerful portion of the society. Their ‘custom of an afternoon,’ was to prepare and drink a favourite compound, which went by the name of ‘brandy-cocktail.’ The avowed object was to stimulate their appetites for dinner, (though for this there appeared no absolute necessity,) and as it seemed to have the desired effect, I may as well add, for the benefit of other weak and delicate indiciduals, that brandy-cocktail is composed of equal quantities of ‘Stoughton bitters’ and Cognac. Under the benign influence of this pleasant compound, the Americans on board, though often somewhat noisy, were never offensively so, and when subjected to unavoidable sea-going annoyances, such as receiving the contents of their soup plates in their laps, or the candles against their noses, they only laughed the more, while some of our military countrymen looked on and frowned, in all the double distilled dulness of English exclusiveness. The cheerful Americans, meanwhile, were nowise affected by their solemnity, and seemed perfectly contented to have all the fun and all the ‘cocktail’ to themselves.

In it, Mrs. Houstoun describes her experiences during the crossing. The Americans remained true to their custom of drinking. Their habit in the afternoon would be to prepare and have a drink, which they called a Brandy Cocktail. This would serve to stimulate their appetite. This drink was made with equal parts of Stoughton Bitters and cognac. Listen and be amazed! Half of it was Stoughton Bitters! This may also be an indication that originally a lot of bitters was put into a cocktail and not just a splash. We have already pointed out that originally, in an English cocktail, much more bitters was added than later, for example, in an Old Fashioned cocktail. Incidentally, reference is still made to this quantitative use of bitters in later recipes. The use of bitters continues to have an effect, for example in the following drinks:

  • In 1908, Jacob Abraham Grohusko lists a story cocktail consisting of 50% Bonnekamp Bitters (which also includes Underberg) and 50% brandy. [11]
  • Jacques Straub lists the Columbus Coktail in 1913, consisting of 2/3 French vermouth and 1/3 Angostura Bitters. [13]
  • Hugo Ensslin lists the Dry Cocktail in 1917, consisting of a jigger of bitters and a jigger of Rye whiskey.. [12]
  1. William Terrington: Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks. Collection of Recipes for „Cups“ and Other Compounded Drinks, and of General Information on Beverages of All Kinds. London & New York, George Routledge & Sons, 1869. Page 190-191.
  2. George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter: Cups And Their Customs. London, John Van Voorst, 1863. Page 50-51.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gingering: Gingering.
  4. http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/scudder1898/cocculus.html: Columba.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jateorhiza_palmata: Jateorhiza palmata.
  6. Matilda Charlotte Houstoun: Hesperos: Or, Travels in the West. Volume 1. London, John W. Parker, 1850. Page 13-14. https://archive.org/details/hesperosortrave02chargoog?q=%22stoughton+bitters%22
  7. http://www.beeretseq.com/the-cocktails-origin-the-racecourse-the-ginger-part-ii/: The Cocktail’s Origin, The Racecourse, The Ginger, Part II. By Gary Gillman, 31. January 2017.
  8. Popkins & Vult: Up Hill and Down Dale: Narrative of an Ascent to the Summit of Primrose Hill. In: The Comic Almanach, 1842. https://books.google.ca/books?id=ewRKAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA319&lpg=PA319&dq=comic+almanack+primrose+hill+1842&source=bl&ots=tYx7VzjfrN&sig=yOF3ZEMMibqf_5aQrU7zj8O89XM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwis1MCVmO3RAhUK-GMKHfA9AocQ6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q=comic%20almanack%20primrose%20hill%201842&f=false
  9. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primrose_Hill: Primrose Hill.
  10. Anonymus: Cassells Domestic Dictionary, Or: Encyclopaedia for the Household. London, Paris & New York, 1800. Page 571. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.83722?q=%22ginger+brandy%22
  11. Jacob Abraham Grohusko: Jack’s Manual. A Treatise On the Care and Handling of Wines and Liquors, Storing, Binning and Serving. Recipes for Mixed Drinks and When and How to Serve Them. New York City, 1908.
  12. Hugo R. Ensslin: Recipes for Mixed Drinks. 2. volume, New York 1917.
  13. Jacques Straub: A Complete Manual of Mixed Drinks For All Occasions. This book contains over 675 clear and accurate directions for mixing all kinds of popular and fancy drinks, served in the best hotels, clubs, buffets, bars and homes. Added to this there is a splendid introduction on wines, their medicinal value, when and how to serve them, kinds and styles of glasses to use and other valuable information and facts of great importance to every user of wines and liquors. Chicago, R. Francis Welsh Publishing Co., 1913.
  14. http://www.saveur.com/how-the-cocktail-got-its-name: Ancient Mystery Revealed! The Real History (Maybe) of How the Cocktail Got its Name. By David Wondrich, 14. January 2016.
  15. https://archive.org/details/scotsmagazine6418unse/page/856/mode/2up  The Scots Magazine. Vol. LXIV. Edinburgh, 1802.
  16. https://archive.org/details/b21356063_0001/page/518?q=%22gin+punch%22 Moritz Hasper: Ueber die Natur und Behandlung der Krankheiten der Tropenländer. Erster Theil. Leipzig, C.H.F. Hartmann, 1831.

explicit capitulum


Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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