Framing drinks

At lunch yesterday at Gordon Biersch, I ordered a V-8 juice to drink, and when the bill came, the juice was listed as a VIRGIN BLOODY MARY — that is, a Bloody Mary cocktail minus the alcohol (vodka in this case). The juice was framed as a variant of an alcoholic drink.

If you order orange juice, it’s just ORANGE JUICE, not a VIRGIN ORANGE BLOSSOM. If you order cranberry juice, it’s just CRANBERRY JUICE, not a VIRGIN CAPE CODDER. Why should V-8 be different?

Some background: if you order tomato juice at Gordon Biersch, you’re offered V-8. They don’t carry plain tomato juice, but do carry V-8 — specifically for making Bloody Marys. So in this context, V-8 (spicy tomato juice plus other vegetable juices) is a Bloody Mary minus the vodka: a Virgin Bloody Mary.

The VBM is a virgin cocktail or mocktail.  This use of virgin isn’t in the OED, except in one expression, on which below. The portmanteau mocktail, however, is in OED3 (Sept. 2002), as originally and chiefly U.S., defined as  ‘a blended non-alcoholic drink consisting of a mixture of fruit juices, etc.’, with cites from 1936 on. Nice quote:

1983    Amer. Speech 58 190   Mocktails use the same fruit juices, sparkling waters (tonic or mineral), mints, drowsy syrups, and as Milton would say, dulcet creams found in alcoholic cocktails.

Mocktails / virgin cocktails include the Virgin Piña Colada, pineapple juice and coconut cream over crushed ice: a Piña Colada minus the rum. They also include some specifically created as non-alcoholic drink-like beverages, involving mixers and fruit juices, especially, and named like, framed like, alcoholic drinks:

Arnold Palmer (half iced tea, half lemonade) [with vodka, it’s a John Daly]

Shirley Temple (ginger ale, orange juice, grenadine syrup, garnished with maraschino cherry; or half lemon-lime soda and half ginger ale; or lemon-lime soda with grenadine)

Roy Rogers (cola and grenadine syrup, garnished with maraschino cherry)

A further subtlety: the expression non-alcoholic drink is used in a broad sense, for any beverage not containing (a significant amount of) alcohol, including sodas, coffee, tea. milk, etc.; or in a narrow sense, for a specifically drink-like beverage of this sort — as an effective synonym for mocktail or virgin cocktail.

Now, back to the Bloody Mary and its variants. The classic cocktail is tomato juice, vodka, and spices and flavorings, garnished with a celery stick (or a pickle spear or olives or some combination of these). The Wikipedia entry says that its origins are disputed, but places it in the 1920s or 1930s; it suggests that the spices and flavorings are crucial; and it lists many variants with other liquor replacing the vodka and others with replacements for the tomato juice (for instance, the Bull Shot, with beef buillon or consomme). OED2’s first cite is from 1939, in which the cocktail is attributed to George Jessel — in a bare-bones but powerful variant that was half tomato juice, half vodka.

A non-alcoholic variant eventually appeared, under the obvious name Virgin Mary; OED2 glosses this as ‘a glass of tomato juice’ (chiefly U.S.), with cites from 1976 on.

This looks like the beginning of virgin understood as a modifier meaning ‘non-alcoholic variant’, extended to other cocktail names and then, eventually, back to Bloody Mary itself, yielding Virgin Bloody Mary.

And the Virgin Bull Shot — beef stock, Worcester sauce, Tabasco sauce, and lemon juice — and many more virgin cocktails.


3 Responses to “Framing drinks”

  1. Completism « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] to pinpoint-strike), portmanteaus (they tend to come up in all sorts of contexts; see mocktail, here), crash blossoms (in the last week, one posting on this blog and two on Language Log), and noun […]

  2. Ellen Says:

    Did they charge you as if you’d ordered juice, or as if you’d ordered a cocktail minus the alcohol?

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