The official definition of a “cocktail” according to Webster Dictionary is “an iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients.” However, we refer to almost any mixed drink as a cocktail. According to Wikipedia, the history of cocktails begins in 1806, but my readers will be surprised to learn that al-Jazari thought about it already in the 12th century. The drink-selector is a man riding a cow. To the best of my knowledge cows are not used in any culture for riding. The nearest exception is bull riding in the Rodeo, and the bulls look like they are not too happy with the idea. This post is a strange combination of all three (al-Jazari, Cocktail, and Rodeo). Let’s Hit the road.
How does it work?
The technical explanation as always will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in patents of pouring and extracting wine can skip those bits. Al-Jazari took a large brass pitcher and welded a handsome cow made from cast-bronze. In the center of the cow, there is a valve in the shape of a man riding the cow and his stretched hand points to a circular disk (not seen in the drawing). The pitcher is divided into five containers. In the first tank, there is an aromatic wine, in the second tank, there is a rose-colored wine(Rosé). The third has a yellow wine. I guess he meant what we call today white wine, but I could not find any support for my assumption. In the forth tank there is red wine, and the last one is full of water. The disk has each liquor markup:
The rider is a sophisticated valve and when rotated to a point one get his chosen wine, or you can produce different mixes, and al-Jazari proposed a few options. The following drawing helps to understand how did it work. This is a combination of a drawing by the book translator and illustrator Donald Hill with a drawing by al-Jazari, and I added captions:
In the beginning, a servant lifts the cover and pours aromatic wine. The wine enters only the appropriate tank and fills it. The wine doesn’t get anywhere else (except maybe negligible amounts) because the way to the other containers is through the higher pipes. When the tank is full the float in the cage will rise and push the seal upward, blocking the tank. The purpose of the cage is to keep the float in place, allowing only vertical movement. I added the detailed drawing by al-Jazari how to build the cage for the float. Next, the servant would pour the Rosé. The wine will accumulate above the partition until it would pass the height of the pipe and flow into the Rosé tank. Since the pipe opening is lower from the bent in the siphon and the water pipe (please look in the drawing) and the white wine pipe (not in the drawing) No Rosé will flow into any other tank. Only when the Rosé tank is full, the float would seal it in the same way as explained before. The same logic continues to fill all the remaining tanks. Each of the containers has a pipe which comes out of the cow mouth through the valve. When you turn the selector to one of the six points, the appropriate pipe is connected, and the selected wine comes out.
Cocktail is a drink prepared by mixing alcohol with alcohol or a soft drink. Al-Jazari proposed to mix all four wines, or to mix wine and water, half in half or third wine and two-thirds water. I think it falls under the definition of a cocktail. There is plenty of evidence for mixing alcoholic beverages throughout history but the first time it was mentioned explicitly by the name “cocktail” is in 1806 in the American magazine The Balance and Columbian Repository: “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters (alcoholic drink flavored with botanical matter).” I found the picture at the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans (it’s not a Museum of my invention, and they even have an educational program?):
The more interesting question is where this weird name cocktail = Rooster tail originated? One story is that the victor in a cockfight was toasted by his fellows with a special drink crowned with feathers, one for each of them left on the winning rooster’s tail. Another version claims that Betsy Flanagan, a tavern keeper, served French soldiers a drink in 1779 garnished with tail feathers of her neighbor’s rooster. In other stories, the “Cocktail” has nothing to do with roosters but is a modification of some other word. Two options are: “Cocktail” was derived from the French term for egg cup, coquetel. One Antoine Amedie Peychaud of New Orleans who mixed his Peychaud bitters into a stomach remedy served in a coquetel. Not all of Peychaud’s customers could pronounce the word, and it became known as a cocktail. The last story is that this was the name of a Mexican Princess named Xochitl. The name means flower in Aztec(?) and some claim it’s the name of an Aztec goddess. Either way, the princess served drinks to American soldiers as part of the celebration of a Peace Treaty signed between Mexico and the United States in the 18th century. “Cocktail” is just a wrong spelling of her name. There are plenty of other stories. The number of colorful stories makes me think they were invented in an evening of too many cocktails and I doubt them all.
It is interesting to note that the myth that drinking a cocktail or even mixing between various drinks (for example drinking beer with a shot of vodka) is the cause of drunkness, or at least a bad headache the next morning is just nonsense. Actual drunkenness and hangover are caused by the amount of alcohol and have nothing to do with mixing or the order of the drinks.
Al-Jazari doesn’t explain why the wine-selector is a man riding a cow? To my knowledge, there is no culture where people rode cows. Oxen were used regularly to pull heavy wagons or for grinding grains in mills and we have the wonderful Minoan art depicting acrobatics on bulls. We think it was a central part of Minoan worship, but to my understanding, we know very little:
The closest thing to riding cows is the Rodeo. It is a popular sport that originated in Spain and Mexico and spread to the United States and elsewhere. During the Rodeo, the rider must stay atop the bull for eight seconds with the use of one hand gripped on a bull rope and the other hand is in the air. I saw it only in the movies, and it’s a pretty sure way to end badly bruised or worse. It certainly doesn’t explain why al-Jazari chose the cow rider as the wine selector?
Cocktails are relatively sophisticated drinks and Rodeo, at least in my mind, is a much more popular sport that goes well with a beer or manly drinks. To my surprise I found that there are quite a few cocktails associated with Rodeo, for example:
Two ounces of Reno Rodeo Legacy Vodka, juice from 1 lemon, 1-ounce triple sec, .5 ounce limoncello, and a splash of simple syrup to sweeten! Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and pour into chilled martini glass. Let’s raise our glasses to al-Jazari, brave bull riders, and tasty cocktails!