Cocktail Anniversary

Yesterday, May 13th marked the 202nd anniversary of the cocktail. Actually, it marked the 202nd anniversary of the first time that the word cocktail appeared in print, or so says the lore, but with a little googling, there may be some difference of opinions.

From Vital Statistics: the first sighting was in 1803, in Farmer’s Cabinet, a cocktail is described as being “excellent for the head”.  Note the date of the entry: May 13

The Boise Weekly has this timely info: The first appearance of the word "cocktail" in any publication appeared May 13, 1806 in The Balance and Columbian Repository, a New York newspaper. Described simply as, "a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters–it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”

The Museum of the American Cocktail sites the same quote, but puts the date as May 6, 1806, and does not name the publication.

Bear in mind, this little controversy is only regarding the etymology of the word cocktail, not where, or when the first cocktail appeared. That debate we leave for another day.

I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide, but yesterday, we raised our glasses to salute the cocktail and the bartenders that make them.


  1. Dana McCauley on May 14, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Yesterday was my friend’s birthday so I’ll be sure to remember to celebrate next year!

    Thanks for publicizing this very useful information – CNN should have sent this around as breaking news.

  2. Judith Klinger on May 19, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Thanks Bruce! You cleared up part of the mystery for me.
    Now, for the next question: any idea why ‘bittered sling’ would be considered ‘vulgar’? Or are they using vulgar in the old/Latin sense to mean common?

Leave a Comment