Bartenders began putting cocktail names and recipes to paper centuries ago. As they soon discovered, many were using different names for the same recipes or the same name for drinks with much different ingredients. The 1913 Bartenders’ Manual, by the Bartenders Association of America, attempted to clear up some of the overlap. “In compiling this book our subject is to come as near as possible to a uniformity of names and methods of mixing and serving drinks with the view of establishing a standard to work from,” the book begins. “There is no actual code universal, either in name or formulas for mixing drinks … Our endeavor is to assemble the various names and methods of concoctions so as to prevent confusion.”
In general, the names that stuck around were the ones that were the easiest to remember. So when bartenders came up with new drinks, they’d try to make theirs memorable by giving them either frank, informative names or totally bizarre ones that no one else would possibly come up with.
Today, bartenders still use this principle when naming their original craft cocktails. Molly Wellmann, who is owner of Japp’s bar in Cincinnati, considers how her new cocktail names will be received in the future. “I believe every craft cocktail will be a classic one day,” she says. “When you make your own cocktail, you should always have a good story behind the name because 100 years from now, there’s going to be a bartender wanting to know about this one drink.”
Flipping through cocktail books from 100 to 200 years ago, it’s obvious that many bartenders did not have the same foresight. In our search through 50 cocktail books that were published between the 1820s and 1940s, we found quite a few cocktails with names that we’re glad were lost to history. (Many of these titles are available to peruse at the EUVS Digital Collection, an online library of bartending books.)
Whether it’s because tastes have changed or because the words carry completely different connotations today, the following 10 cocktails all have one thing in common: Judging by their names alone, you wouldn’t want to put them anywhere near your mouth.
1. URANIUM FIZZ
This recipe—which called for making a regular gin fizz with the addition of ginger ale—comes from Bill Kelly's 1946 book The Roving Bartender.
2. AMMONIA AND SELTZER
A medicinal hangover cure conceived in George J. Kappeler’s 1895 book Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks, this formula calls for mixing seltzer or plain water with the aromatic ammonia spirit (not the kitchen cleaner!), which was and still is used to prevent fainting and gastric acid.
3. GRIT COCKTAIL
A tiny drink composed of vermouth and whiskey and found in Drinks (1920) by Jacques Straub, this concoction goes down much smoother than you’d imagine.
4. BOSOM CARESSER
Edward Spencer’s very specific recipe for fondling-in-a-glass, detailed in The Flowing Bowl (1903), consists of sherry, brandy, an egg yolk, sugar, and two grains of cayenne pepper.
5. STOMACH ESSENCE
The Flowing Bowl
also contains the recipe for this tummy-clearing cocktail, which is infused with two exotic ingredients: cortex China (a bitter Chinese herb used for releasing toxins) and flores Cassia or cinnamon, which increases blood flow.
6. BEEF TEA
This straightforward drink from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual (1900) is made from beef extract, or highly concentrated beef stock, and hot water. Other versions of this recipe call for chilled water or even raw beef. You can add sherry or brandy to the glass for an upcharge.
7. MONKEY GLAND
This tropical recipe contains gin, orange juice, absinthe and grenadine and can be found in Café Royal Cocktail Book Coronation Edition (1937) by William J. Tarling.
8. HOT INVALID PUNCH
Made for invalids like the hungover, not of them, this hearty punch in Louis’ Mixed Drinks (1906) by Jacques Louis Muckensturm contains chicken consomme, sherry, and poached eggs.
9. ASSES’ MILK
Probably named after the donkey instead of the body part, this cocktail in Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks (1872) by William Terrington combines aerated lemonade with half a gill (or about 2 ounces) of rum. The gill was a unit of measurement and physical vessel that was used in 14th Century England like a modern-day jigger.
10. DIARRHEA MIXTURE
There is no way to know if this ginger-peppermint-brandy cocktail, found in Drinks (1920), was meant to resemble its namesake in the glass or cause it after you consumed it. Either way, bottom’s up!