- An alcoholic mixed drink, specifically a beverage that contains one or more types of alcohol, with one or more additional ingredients.
- Obsolete: A mixed drink made from distilled spirits, sugar, water, and bitters.
While there is some debate about the origin of the word cocktail, its first use in print (with an associated recipe) was May 13, 1806—now celebrated as World Cocktail Day. Harry Croswell, editor of Hudson, New York newspaper The Balance and Columbian Repository, answered a reader’s question of “What is a cocktail?” with the following:
Cock-tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.