The earliest known mention of a drink called cocktail is from the following, published in The Morning Post and Gazetteer (London, England) of 20th March 1798—source: Newspaper Archive:
We have already stated that the Publican, the corner of Downing-street, when he heard of his share in the Lottery being drawn a 10,000l. prize, washed out all scores with a mop. It may be entertaining to lay before our readers a list of the scores that were owing to him by the Nobility and Gentry of the neighbourhood.—The principal of them were as follow:
Lord Grenville for “cherry-bounce” (at his Office when preparing for the House of Peers) 0 17 6
Mr. Canning for “Spruce” 0 7 3
Sir Watkins Lewes three pots of Meux’s “entire butt.” 0 0 10½
Ditto seven “Welsh rabbits” 0 1 2
Sir John Sinclair “lamb’s wool” 0 2 1
Ditto, seven pots of “half and half” for the neutrality 0 2 4
Ditto “Ferntosh whiskey” for Sir J. Macpherson 0 3 6
Ditto Capillaire, alias “maiden-hair syrup” for Mr. Pollen 0 1 6
Ditto three pots of “brown stout” for Colonel Porter 0 1 3
Ditto thirty-five nips of “glue,” commonly called Burton ale, to make the members of the neutrality stick together 0 5 2½ [?]
Sir William Lemon, three yards of stannel, commonly called hot pot 0 3 6
Duke of Richmond, three glasses of “peppermint” 0 0 6
Ditto, half a pint of “twopenny” 0 0 1
Ditto, a gill of “tent” 0 0 6
Dudley Ryder, three “overtakers” 0 0 3
Ditto, “reason wine” 0 1 9
Duke of Portland (after seeing Fevey’s dagger exhibited at the Privy Council) “aniseed” 0 1 4
Lord Gwyder, “amber” 0 0 9
Lady Willoughby, “carraway waters” 0 0 7
Mr. Pitt, two petit vers of “L’huile de Venus” 0 1 0
Ditto, one of “perfeit amour” 0 0 7
Ditto, “cock-tail” (vulgarly called ginger) 0 0 ¾ [?]
Lady Sheffield, “two goes” of Jamaica rum 0 0 6
Lord Sheffield, “crank” 0 0 4
Duke of Buccleugh, threes “doctors” 0 2 3
Lord Chatham, six-pennyworths of brandy and water, while at the Councils 1 5 6
Ditto, brandy to make them stronger 1 9 0
Earl of Fife, “cockagee cyder” 0 3 3
Mr. Rose (while writing letters upon the reform of public offices) “gin and bitters” 0 11 7
Old Scores and detail from Old Scores
The Morning Post and Gazetteer (London, England) of 20th March 1798:
– cherry-bounce: colloquial for cherry-brandy: a liqueur of a dark red colour, made of brandy in which Morello or other cherries have been steeped for one or two months, sweetened with sugar
– spruce (beer): a fermented drink made with an extract from the leaves and branches of a spruce tree
– entire butt: a type of beer usually identified as a type of porter
– Welsh rabbit: a drink? – or toast topped with melted cheese?
– lamb’s wool: a drink consisting of hot ale mixed with the pulp of roasted apples, and sugared and spiced
– half and half: a mixture of two malt liqueurs, especially of ale and porter
– Ferntosh whiskey: probably Scotch whisky made at Ferintosh, in the Highlands
– capillaire, or maiden-hair syrup: a syrup of maidenhair fern, a type of fern with delicate fronds and hair-like stalks
– Burton ale: probably an ale made at Burton-on-Trent, a town in Staffordshire
– stannel: ?
– hot pot: a hot drink composed of ale and spirits, or sweetened and spiced ale
– twopenny: short for twopenny ale, or twopenny beer, a quality of ale originally sold at twopence per quart; in Scotland, at twopence a Scotch pint
– tent: a Spanish wine of a deep red colour and of low alcoholic content (from Spanish tinto, dark-coloured)
– overtaker: ?
– reason wine: probably raisin wine
– aniseed: anisette, a liqueur flavoured with aniseed
– amber: alcoholic drink, probably beer, of an amber or light brown colour
– carraway waters: perhaps a drink flavoured with caraway seeds
– in two petit vers of “L’huile de Venus”, vers is a misprint for French verres, i.e. glasses – cf. NOTE ON HUILE DE VENUS
– perfeit amour: parfait amour, a sweet liqueur of Dutch origin, flavoured with lemon, cloves, cinnamon and coriander, and coloured red or purple
– cock-tail: cf. MEANING AND ORIGIN OF THE WORD COCKTAIL
– go: a small drinking vessel, hence the quantity of drink held by this
– crank: ?
– doctor: a ‘doctored’, i.e. adulterated, drink; e.g. a liqueur mixed with inferior wine to make it more palatable, or with light-coloured wine, as sherry, to darken it; hence, a name for brown sherry
– cockagee cyder: cider made from cockagee, a cider apple originally from Ireland – the word cockagee is from Irish cac a’ ghéidh, meaning goose dung, from the greenish-yellow, ‘goose-turd’, colour of the apple.
In the above-quoted text from The Morning Post and Gazetteer (London, England) of 20th March 1798, cock-tail does not seem to have the current acceptation of an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or spirits mixed with other ingredients, since the drink called cock-tail is explained as being “vulgarly called ginger”.
(Here, ginger perhaps denotes an alcoholic drink made with fermented ginger—although the words ginger ale and ginger beer are first recorded later, in the early 19th century, and ginger (short for ginger ale and ginger beer) is first recorded in 1834.)
Perhaps the drink mentioned in The Morning Post and Gazetteer was called cock-tail because the noun ginger was at that time used to denote a cock with red plumage—as explained by the English lexicographer and antiquary Francis Grose (1731-91) in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (London: S. Hooper, 1785):
GINGER PATED, or GINGER HACKLED, red haired, a term borrowed from the cock pit, where red cocks are called gingers.
I have found two recipes for liqueurs called in French huile de Vénus (literally oil of Venus) in Traité du négociant de vins et eaux-de-vie, suivi de l’art de faire les liqueurs (Saint-Jean-d’Angély, Charente-Inférieure: at the author’s, 1854), by C.-C. Dornat:
– First recipe:
Huile de Vénus.
62 grammes cardamomum,
62 grammes d’ambrette,
62 grammes canelle de Ceylan,
16 grammes macis,
Le jus de dix oranges.
62 grams cardamom,
62 grams ambrette,
62 grams Ceylon cinnamon,
16 grams mace,
The juice of ten oranges.
– Second recipe:
Huile de Vénus.
96 grammes de carvi,
96 grammes de chervis,
96 grammes d’anis vert,
24 gr. de macis,
Les zestes de trois oranges,
8 litres d’esprit.
Infuser les ingrédients ci-dessus pendant cinq jours, et, avant de filtrer, y ajouter 52 grammes d’esprit de vanille.
96 grams of caraway
96 grams of skirret
96 grams of green aniseed
24 gr. of mace,
The zests of three oranges,
8 litres of spirit.
Infuse the above ingredients for five days, and, before filtering, add 52 grams of vanilla spirit.