Samui Wining & Dining
Cocktail Conundrums

Sometimes the strange names are half the fun of cocktails.

Sometimes the strange names are half the fun of cocktails.Barking Spider, Salty Chihuahua, Blood & Sand, Dr Sinister, Inspector Gadget and Satan’s Whiskers – these demented cocktail names show that mixologists are as busy with words as they are with ingredients. Even Hemingway came up with a cocktail name – Death in the Gulfstream. No encouragement ever seems needed when it comes to giving a weird name to new concoctions. Why bother with Scrabble and crosswords when cocktail names provide so much fun?.

There are some cocktail names that are simply so obscene that most people, even when highly drunk, might not want to order them. In a family-style publication like ours, we dare not even think of mentioning them. You would definitely not ask any bartender if they had them on the menu – he or she might think they were being propositioned. These cocktails probably aren’t going to make any international favourites list anywhere – simply because they require nerves of steel simply to order. Are we talking along the lines of that classic vacation cocktail, Sex on the Beach, born in Florida and which has fuelled almost a half century of mayhem for Spring Break students? No, we are not. The names seem so obscene that they can only herald the downfall of the drink itself – people are wary enough of embarrassing themselves in bars as it is!

With weird, laughable, offensive and even completely meaningless names, cocktails seem to be in a linguistic, if not alcoholic, class of their own. Some drinks never really make it to the light of day or at least fame; a good many can only be drunk in the bar where they were invented – and should the bar go bankrupt, the cocktail ceases to exist, while others go on to become famous, still carrying their strange name with them. A fishing club in Philadelphia, otherwise obscure, invents Fish House Punch with its peach brandy, cognac and rum; 1920’s Paris comes up with Burnt Fuselage, made of cognac and Grand Marnier, still drunk today; a Toronto hotel puts together martini and crème de cacao and produces a drink that seems just right for wayward children at an illicit moonlight feast – the Chocolate Martini.

The lure of the forbidden, or at least the dangerous, proves too much for many a drinker, and some cocktails sound like their own alcohol-content warning – think Corpse Reviver or A Short Trip to Hell. These are fairly obvious names for potent drinks. Anything that references the afterlife or some bilious half-life, half-death limbo is good for business. But many more names verge on the disturbing. Here are a few strange-sounding potions that you may want to try. Or not.

Guts are possibly a requirement to order the memorably-named Monkey Gland, which reputedly comes from Harry’s New York Bar, where the far more famous Bloody Mary was invented and first drunk. It was a surgeon who was behind this new simian-themed drink – monkey glands were all part of his surgical experiments. Or how about Gorilla Milk, flavoured with both banana cream and light cream? A summery drink indeed, though with an unpleasant lingering image.

A leitmotiv in the world of cocktails seems to be an obsession with anatomy and the underbellies of cities. Cocktails that seem to channel this are Vile Bile with Blood Clots, a Halloween delight with deep reds and blacks, and the fruity gin-laden Sewer Water, enhanced with pineapple liqueur, but with an off-putting muddy brown colour. Then there’s the more rural but no less disquieting Swamp Gas, which actually smells fairly nice, it being comprised of blue Curacao with melon liqueur, and not a soupçon of methane and rotting vegetation.

Many a cocktail is named after one or other of its ingredients, although you might not see the connection at first. Take the fine example of James the Evil Leprechaun. The cocktail consists of four Irish whiskeys mixed together and yes, Jameson is traditionally one of them, hence the name of the drink. The ‘evil’ part becomes more obvious the more you drink of the cocktail. Some people, given their delirium tremens, claim to have seen James manifest himself at their hospital bed.

If you're tired of ordering such alarming-sounding drinks, you might want to opt for the more down to earth Pencil Eraser, its fruit flavours echoing the insipid pinks last seen in, yes, school erasers, or the manly, no-nonsense Mustache, a gin, bourbon and lemon concoction, invented by a New York chef after being told his vodka tonic was ‘too girly’.

There are cocktails that defy explanation. Nobody knows for example the origins of Goat's Delight. It’s a mystery how this pre-prohibition drink got its name, but it’s sure that no goat has ever lapped it up – goats will eat your tablecloth but just don’t enjoy the complexities of cocktails. Mostly there’s some explanation if you look hard and deep enough, but you need to remember that the mixologist’s world is not as straightforward as shaking up drinks. Things get giddy, especially if you actually have to drink what you've made.

Speaking of etymology, even the word ‘cocktail’ itself remains a mystery. Some believe the word comes from an old word for tap, ‘cock’ and ‘tailings’, which were the dregs of barrels of spirits. Sold cheaper, tavern keepers would be asked for ‘cock tailings’ – and they’d draw some nasty potions at discount for their eager patrons. However, over in New Orleans, an apothecary famed for his bitters would serve a mixed brandy drink in a French eggcup, known as a ‘coquetier’. Eventually it got anglicized to ‘cocktail’.

Which explanation is correct? Who knows or cares? In the surrealistic world of cocktails, late-night wordsmiths are more concerned with coming up with new names for new drinks. It would appear that the drinks come first and are then given names, but given the sheer joy of penning outlandish descriptions, it might well be the other way round at times.

          

Dimitri Waring



 


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