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What’s in a name

The name of a drink can be very influential to its success or failure.

It can provoke instant familiarity and reassurance that you're going to get what you want, or it can be the thing that draws your eye to it in the first place, leading you to try new things.

If we exclude those crass or crude cocktails that use their names to hide the ridiculousness of the drink, there is a sense of artistry in the naming process. Would the Manhattan be so well known if it had been the Rye Martini? Would the Cosmopolitan be quite so ubiquitous were it called the Pink Punch? And let's not even consider the literal translation of Mojito into 'A Little Wet'.

Broadly speaking, cocktail names fall into four categories.


The Sour (spirit, citrus and sugar), Fizz (as for a sour but made long with soda), Martini (short, strong), Flip (spirit, sugar, spices and egg) or Old-Fashioned (spirit, sugar, bitters, stirred). These are the simplest to recognize and pretty informative. The cover of the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide gives us a summary of the styles of drink available at the time, most of which are still common in cocktail names.


The Manhattan is pretty obvious, although more specifically thought to be named after the Manhattan Club where it was first listed in 1874. Many other bars of the classic cocktail period from the turn of the last century liked to name their cocktails after themselves - the Clover Club (a Philadelphia club), The Savoy Cocktail (London's Savoy Hotel), The Buck's Fizz (London's Buck's Club) or the Pegu Club (a colonial club from what was then Burma) for example. There are a fair number of references to particular drinkers as well. The Negroni (named after the Count who preferred his Americano fortified with gin instead of soda water) and the Mary Pickford (rum, pineapple, grenadine and maraschino) named after the silent movie actress who was staying at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana whilst filming in the 1920s.


Here I include the Corpse Reviver ("Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse" - Harry Craddock), Death in the Afternoon (named after one of his own works by Hemingway in a celebrity cocktail book. His instructions were "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."), Gimlet (named after the small, sharp tool used to tap into their barrels of spirits and beer, the drink is short and sharp), Dark 'n Stormy (sailor’s ingredients of rum, ginger beer and lime combining to look like a murky night at sea), Treacle (created by Dick Bradsell in London during the 1990s, this has the appropriate color and sweetness) and, perhaps the name that best captures the drink - the Mai Tai, from the Tahitian "Mai Tai - roa ae", meaning "out of this world".


In the case of the Sidecar, for the World War I Captain who always arrived at Le Harry's New York Bar in Paris in a sidecar. For the French 75, it was Henry at Henry's Bar in Paris who named it after the World War I artillery gun of the same name (the original cocktail didn't have the Champagne to lengthen it, so it was short and packed a serious kick - like the gun); and the Scofflaw (rye whiskey, dry vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine and orange bitters) - created during The Noble Experiment, the word was used to describe someone who drank alcohol - or scoffed at the law of prohibition.

The final drink, on what has turned out to be rather a list for you to work your way through, is the Monkey Gland cocktail. Appropriately for the last one on the list, this drink is a good pick-me-up, which could be why it was named after the 19th century practice of transplanting an ape's gonads into elderly men to renew their get-up-and-go. At least that's the story as told by Gary Regan, and as he’s one of those cocktailians who knows a thing or two, I'm not going to argue. The first use of the name can be credited to a couple of bars, both in Paris during prohibition - clearly a fruitful period in the history of naming.

Monkey Gland Cocktail

- 1.25 oz TANQUERAY® London Dry Gin

- 0.75 oz freshly squeezed orange juice

- 2 dashes absinthe (English-style) or Benedictine (American)

- 2 dashes homemade grenadine

Of course you should not feel held to conform to these ways of classifying and naming your drinks. Should you want to cut with tradition and go wild, please do - and have some fun with it! One of my recent favorites comes from the list at Hyde & Seek Gastrobar in Bangkok - I had to order a ‘Homeless Pirate’s Bag of Joy’ on the basis of the name alone!

All drink recipes within this site contain no more than 0.6 fl. oz. (14 grams) of alcohol per serving, equivalent to one standard U.S. drink.