Either, a barmaid in New York called Betsy, who thought outside the traditional garnish box, started serving mixed alcoholic drinks adorned with cock’s tail stirrers taken from her feathery bar décor. Or, savvy tavern keepers would…
…combine the inferior dregs of their various barrels of rum, brandy, whisky, gin etc in a spare barrel and sell them as ‘cock tailings’ – ie the tail ends below the stop-cocks – for a reduced price.
Or perhaps, the ‘cocktail’ is an appropriately multi-coloured metonym for the rooster, whose call was associated with a stiff morning drink of mixed substances by those who did not own yard arms to restrict their drinking habits.
Or maybe, the term is derived from ‘coquetier’, a French egg-cup which was used to serve mixed drinks in New Orleans in the early 19th century.
Or, it could be that it was named after a mixed breed of the horse – the ‘cock-tail’ – as it too was a mixture.
In any case, the first written record we have of the cocktail is from 1803: “Drank a glass of cocktail — excellent for the head … Call’d at the Doct’s. found Burnham — he looked very wise — drank another glass of cocktail.”