These Alcoholic Drinks Are Hiding Behind Regular Words

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!


It really doesn’t help that this classic apéritif 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.

To make an Americano (the cocktail), just mix 1 1/2 oz bitters, 1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, and a splash of soda water over ice in a highball glass.

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.

This one’s pretty easy to make. Just mix 6 oz hot coffee and 1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey. Sweeten with sugar or brown sugar, and top it off with as much whipped cream as you want. There’s an after-dinner treat that’ll keep you awake (but not a good choice for your morning commute).

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 (sneaky sneaky), 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.

To make this infamous drink, you’ll need:

  • 1/2–3/4 oz tequila
  • 1/2–3/4 oz rum
  • 1/2–3/4 oz vodka
  • 1/2–3/4 oz gin
  • 1/2–3/4 oz triple sec
  • 1/2–3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • cola

Just pour all of the ingredients except the cola into a highball or hurricane glass, and stir them together. Top it off with a splash of cola, stir again, and garnish with a lemon wedge. The result should look like a tall glass of iced tea. But it’s a tea of lies. Remember that.

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).

To make this not-pie, combine 3 oz sherry, 1 Tbsp of sugar, 2 orange slices, and some crushed ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake well. Pour it all, unstrained, into a tall glass, and garnish with more orange slices, fruits, or fresh berries. And yeah, it’ll probably go well with that other kind of cobbler.


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.

If you’re on the lookout for the perfect drink to pair with your tomatoes and clams (or if you’re just curious), here’s how to make it: Coat the rim of a tall glass with celery salt, then combine the following:

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 4–5 oz Clamato juice
  • 2 dashes of Tabasco
  • 3 dashes of salt and pepper
  • 2–4 dashes of Worcester sauce

Stir gently, and garnish with a celery stalk and a lime wedge.

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 tāḍi, 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.”

Combine 2 oz bourbon, 4 oz boiling-hot water, 1/4 oz of lemon juice, 8 Tbsp of honey, and 4 cloves (optional) in a mug. It may or may not actually work as a cold remedy, but it works well as a cold weather drink.


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.

President George Washington actually had his own recipe for eggnog. It called for the following:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 1 quart milk
  • 12 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 pint brandy
  • 1 pint rye whiskey
  • 1 pint spiced rum
  • 1 pint sherry

(For those keeping track, that’s eight cups of liquor and eight cups of milk/cream, plus a dozen eggs and 6 oz sugar. This makes a LOT of eggnog.) The recipe then instructs “mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.” When you do eventually serve it, garnish with a bit of nutmeg.

Bonus Words To Know

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. But whether you’re new to drinking or just aren’t sure if wine cooler is code for fake wine, here’s a quick guide:

  • cooler: “a tall drink, consisting of liquor, soda, and a fruit garnish.”
  • fizz: “an iced mixed drink made of liquor, lemon juice, sugar, and soda.”
  • frappé: “an after-dinner drink consisting of a liqueur, as crème de menthe, poured over cracked or shaved ice.”
  • spritzer: “a tall drink made with chilled wine and soda.”

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. What other cocktail drinks have tripped you up in the past? Tweet @dictionarycom with the hashtag #DcomHappyHour, and let us know what other drinks you want to know more about.

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