There's been a lot of debate among bar folk about the word “mixologist.” When it first started showing up to describe the craft of mixing cocktails a few years back, it seemed to be embraced by the most creative and ambitious bartenders as a way of giving a specification for someone capable of doing more than pushing beer and shots across a sticky bar.
Then came the backlash, and the reclaiming of the word “bartender.” “Mixology” and “mixologist” were derided as pure pretension. Many of the country's best cocktail makers decided it was also important to recognize the hospitality function of the person behind the bar, and felt that “bartender” better captured that notion. The reclaiming of the word “bartender” was in many ways a backlash against the snobbery that can go along with high end cocktails.
Now the word “mixologist” is as hated by some (mainly bartenders) as the word “foodie,” a modern word used to fancify something and add layers of smarminess (foodie probably isn't as new a word as you think, but it is a modern word, with most accounts saying the first usage was 1982). So I was surprised, during a recent browsing of the LAPL menu collection, to come across a menu dated 1975 with the words “tropical mixology from the islands” to describe a list of tiki drinks. It got me wondering: How old is the term “mixology”?
Very old, it turns out. Like, 1891 old. The earliest reference I could find for the word was in the title of a 1981 book, Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender: The Only Practical Treatise On The Art of Mixology Published.
OK, so “mixology” is an old word, but what about “mixologist”? I was able to find the book to your right, The Mixologist, How To Mix The Makings, dated 1933 (it looks as though you may be able to purchase the book for $450 at the above link).
So maybe rather than a form of modern pretension, these terms are simply examples of historical bar culture brought back to life, like the sazerac and the handlebar mustache. Of course, the two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It could just be proof that even in the 1890s, bartenders could be pompous and self-important.
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