Cocktails & Christians

I stumbled onto something of interest I want to share with you. The cocktail has an enduring and cherished place in American entertainment and social life. What’s a party in America without a cocktail? How could you celebrate New Year’s Eve without one? Sales will no doubt sore in the upcoming roll-over celebration from ‘99 to 2000. If you have a place of some responsibility in business, marketing, fraternal organizations or if you attend school, family or military reunions or receptions – you have probably been offered a cocktail. Perhaps some who are reading this have accepted the offer, and consider their partaking as socially necessary, physically harmless and spiritually innocent. H.L. Mencken once observed, “the cocktail to multitudes of foreigners, seems to be the greatest of all contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of humanity, but there remains a good deal of uncertainty about the etymology of its name and even some doubt the thing itself is of American origin.” Mencken documented seven distinct stories about the origin of the cocktail.

The first is that it is derived from the French coquetier, or egg-cup. According to this story, the cocktail was invented in New Orleans, circa 1795, by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, an apothecary from Santo Domingo. Peychaud, who is famous as the inventor Peychaud bitters, held social gatherings for fellow Masons at his pharmacy at 437 rue Royale. He would serve brandy toddies to which he would add his own mixture of bitters and would serve in an egg-cup. The drink acquired the name of the cup, but English speaking guests would call it a cocktay, which eventually became the cocktail. The specificity of the details and Peychaud’s renown as a mixologist lend credence to this explanation, but there is no definite evidence to support it.

The second explanation is one that does not favor an American origin. In this one, the word derives from the French coquetel, a drink known in the Bordeaux region for several centuries. The drink, and its name, were introduced to America by French officers during the American Revolution.

Another is that it is derived from cock-ale, a drink popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. To a cask of new ale was added a sack containing an old rooster, mashed to a pulp, raisins, mace, and cloves, and the mixture was allowed to infuse for a week or so.

The fourth explanation given by Mencken is that it comes from cock-bread-ale, a mixture of stale bread, ale, and bitters that was fed to fighting cocks, and often taken by their handlers as well.

The fifth is that it is so called because it is a drink that will “cock your tail.” Robert Hess wrote of this: “A “cocktailed horse” is one whose tail has been bobbed, giving it a jaunty and flamboyant look. It seems reasonable that the “cocktail” took its name from the drink’s alcoholic wallop, sufficient to “cock the tail” (or “knock the socks off”) of an unwary patron.”

The sixth story is that it comes from cocktailings. The dregs of various casks would be drained out of the cocks, or valves, mixed together and sold as a cheap drink.

Mencken’s final explanation is that it came from the practice of toasting the victor in a cockfight. Into the drinks would be inserted a number of feathers corresponding to the number of feathers left in the cock’s tail. Any of these explanations sound like something Christians would want to be part of?

The earliest known written reference to the term “cocktail” as a drink based on spirits with other spirits and/or other additives goes back to an early American magazine called “The Balance”, published in May 1806. “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters - it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion”

Well, regardless of which account deserves credence, it seems reasonable to conclude that the cocktail has an origin far lower than its’ contemporary eminence. And what does the Bible say that bears upon this practice?

”Wine is a mocker, intoxicating drink arouses brawling, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise,” (Prov. 20:1). Also:

”Do not mix with winebibbers, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old. Buy the truth, and do not sell it, Also wisdom and instruction and understanding. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, And he who begets a wise child will delight in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, And let her who bore you rejoice. My son, give me your heart, And let your eyes observe my ways. For a harlot is a deep pit, And a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, And increases the unfaithful among men. Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: “They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?” (Prov. 23:20-35). {See also 1 Pet. 4:3}.

- Warren E. Berkley Pharr, Texas.

Back to Bulletin Fodder