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Names for disguised alcoholic drinks in English

My next project after last week’s well-received column titled “Pig by Other Names: the Multiple Names for Pig and Pig Meant in English” was to…

My next project after last week’s well-received column titled “Pig by Other Names: the Multiple Names for Pig and Pig Meant in English” was to call attention to many “innocent-sounding” drinks that contain bits of alcohol-or that are wholly alcohol. 

Then, as if he had a sneak peek of the thoughts in my brain,Mr. Tunde Asaju, Canada-based satirist and Daily Trust columnist, called my attention to a Dictionary.com slide show that did exactly that. “Thought this might be a good follow-up to your last article on pigs in fancy names,” he said. So thank him for this week’s column.

What follows is Dictionary.com’s guide for diners in the West who want to avoid alcohol. It’seducative and instructive, and has been edited for space. As the reader can tell, it was written for a primarily Western audience, but anyone who travels to, and dines in, the West can benefit from the article’s insights. 

Alcoholic drinks in hiding

It’s a trap!

All of us have had a moment at a restaurant or bar where we probably should have asked a few questions before ordering, but didn’t. You’re out and about, you order what you think is a nice tea or coffee, and surprise! It has alcohol in it!?

There are a lot of cocktails out there, and some of them have names that just don’t sound like alcohol. Never fear, though. Here’s a collection of some of the worst offenders to watch out for, whether you’re trying to keep them off your tab or add them to it!

1. Americano:It really doesn’t help that this classicapéritif shares a name with an espresso drink. If you see this on a drink menu, just know that it’s not coffee.

The Americano was born in the 1860s, in a Milanese bar owned by Gaspare Campari (yes, the guy who created Campari liqueur). It was originally known as Milano-Torino, but became known as the Americano in the early 1900s thanks to its popularity among American tourists in Italy.

Incidentally, caffè Americano (which is a shot of espresso with two shots of water) earned its name thanks to American GIs in Europe during World War II. Legend has it they couldn’t handle the intensity of Italian espresso, so they diluted it with water to imitate the taste of the coffee they’d had back home.

2. Irish coffee:To be fair, this one does actually contain coffee and was invented in Ireland: It was created for a restaurant at Foynes Airbase, near Limerick, which was the main place operating Flying Boats between America and Europe. 

In 1942, one of these flights had to turn back due to a storm, and Chef/bartender Joe Sheridan was tasked with preparing food and drink for a set of miserable passengers who would be spending the night at the airport. Sheridan prepared this drink as a special treat for them. One of those passengers was a travel writer who brought the recipe back to the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco (but it wasn’t quite the same). In 1952, Sheridan himself came to work at the Buena Vista cafe and the rest is history.

3. Long Island Iced Tea:Ahh. The tea that’s definitely not tea. How many people have ordered Long Island Iced Tea by mistake? Unfortunately, this is a dictionary and we don’t have access to those kinds of numbers. But we can tell you where the drink might have come from.

Although tea-like drinks have been around since Prohibition [a constitutional amendment that forbade the sale of alcohol in the US from 1920 to 1933], a bartender named Bob “Rosebud” Butt has the most solid claim as the Long Island Iced Tea’s inventor. He claims he created the drink for the Oak Beach Inn East on Long Island, New York, in 1972 to use up the bar’s triple sec.

4. Sherry Cobbler:Sorry: It’s not a pie. Cobbler can actually mean a lot of things. In this case, it’s “an iced drink made of wine or liquor, fruits, and sugar.”

This one is a classic in many senses of the word: It’s been mentioned in literature since 1809, getting name-dropped by Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Washington Irving. Even Queen Victoria is said to have sipped it in her garden. It was a drink that was only newly made possible by expanded trade (sherry is from Spain and sugar is from the Caribbean) and technological advances (ice needs refrigeration, which was a new luxury then).

5. Caesar:Also known as a “Bloody Caesar,” this drink has nothing to do with salad. Our Canadian readers already know what’s up, but for the uninitiated, the Caesar is more or less a Bloody Mary, but with Clamato juice instead of regular tomato juice. And again: Why clams? We figured it out:

The story goes that this drink was invented in 1969 by Walter Chell, a bartender at Marco’s Italian Restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, who hoped to create the perfect drink to complement the restaurant’s spaghetti vongole. Spaghetti vongole-which is made with fresh tomatoes and clams. Soon enough, he perfected the recipe, and thanks to the widespread availability of Clamato juice, it easily spread to households and bars across Canada.

6. Hot Toddy:Maybe you already knew about this one. Or maybe you just didn’t think about it when your grandma handed you this famous old cold remedy. No judgement.

The word toddy comes from the Hindi word tāi, which is a drink made from fermented palm sap. In the 1610s, when the British controlled India, they borrowed the word and the drink, and adapted it to mean “a drink made of alcoholic liquor and hot water, sweetened and sometimes spiced.” Another version of the story claims it was invented by an Irish doctor named Robert Bentley Todd. Either way, the drink became popular among British plantations in the North American South and the Caribbean, and today remains an essential “medicinal drink.”

7. Eggnog:As long as we’re talking about drink betrayal, let’s talk about the one that may have embarrassed you at that one holiday party. Not all eggnog contains alcohol, but now you know why the cartons at the grocery store will explicitly say that they’re non-alcoholic. 

This drink is from way before your cool aunt spiked her cup. Eggnog historians (who totally exist) trace the drink’s origins back to medieval Britain. Monks in the 1200s were known to drink a “posset” containing milk, eggs, and sherry, which was considered healthy back then. In the 1600s, when colonialism was Britain’s hot new pastime, they brought it with them to the New World, where it grew to be a popular alcoholic drink to serve at high society holiday parties.

8. Cooler: “a tall drink, consisting of liquor, soda, and a fruit garnish.”

9. Fizz: “an iced mixed drink made of liquor, lemon juice, sugar, and soda.”

10.Frappé: “an after-dinner drink consisting of a liqueur, as crème de menthe, poured over cracked or shaved ice.”

11. Spritzer: “a tall drink made with chilled wine and soda.”

There are just a few more terms you should be aware of. Most of them appear in the names of drinks (like gin fizz or wine cooler), so you might be able to guess that they’re alcoholic. If you can’t tell from the name of a drink whether or not it contains alcohol, there’s no shame in asking the server or bartender.


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