Cocktail: What Is It? Your Thoughts Appreciated!

What is a cocktail? Well, my husband seems pretty clear on what is *not* a cocktail.

“A shandy is not a cocktail,” he protested.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because you’re just adding one ingredient, lemonade, and beer is not a spirit,” he responded.

“So by that logic,” I said, “you shouldn’t call a rum and coke a cocktail, because it’s only adding one ingredient, and you certainly shouldn’t call a mimosa a cocktail either.”

“Right,” he said, satisfied.

Can this really be true? Does a cocktail always need a spirit and more than two ingredients?

My Diffords Guide provides a “cocktail timeline” beginning with “the fish house punch” created in 1732 at the State Fishing and Social Club in the Philadelphia neighbourhood of Schuylkill. (That’s pronounced “Scoo-kil.” I’m from the area, so I should know.) The book says it “would have originally been made using peach brandy, though peach schnapps are often substituted now.”

In 1806, according to the book, the word “cocktail” appeared in print in a New York newspaper. The book says: “After a reader wrote in and asked for an explanation of the term, the following was published ‘Cock tail…is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters…'”

This seems like quite a narrow definition. It must have loosened up quite a bit since then.

So how do you define a cocktail? I am curious to hear your thoughts!