The Unsanitary Way The Screwdriver Cocktail Got Its Name

Cocktails can get their monikers in any number of ways. Sometimes it's obvious why a drink has the name it does — like a tequila sunrise, which looks like a sunrise and is made with tequila. Other times, there's an interesting — or dubious — story behind it. Such is the case with the screwdriver. A classic yet simple cocktail, the recipe for the screwdriver consists of just vodka and orange juice. But its name is so common and well-known that it may not occur to many people to question just how it came to be.

As it turns out, the legend behind the cocktail's name appears to be a little on the nose. It dates back to the previous century and oil workers in the Persian Gulf who put a little pep in their step by spiking their orange juice with vodka. Naturally, they didn't have any spoons or bar tools handy, so they made do with the next best thing — their screwdrivers. This answer might be surprising, especially if you've ever been curious about how the drink got its name but decided to let your imagination run wild instead of looking into it. Or it might be one of those face-palm moments that have you wondering why you didn't think of that explanation sooner.

Orange juice and vodka concoctions may predate the cocktail's name

As entertaining as the story of the screwdriver's possible origins is, there is some debate as to whether those oil workers were actually the first to mix vodka and orange juice. Another version of history credits Marines with adding vodka to their orange juice during the Second World War — although it's not clear that they used any actual screwdrivers in the process.

While many cocktails can be traced back to specific times and places, the simplicity of orange juice and vodka suggests that the drink could have been reinvented any number of times before it was dubbed a screwdriver. Even if the Persian Gulf oil workers weren't the first to put the two ingredients together, it's still plausible that they can be credited with the cocktail's name.

Fortunately, there are better tools available for this purpose. Although, stirring those cocktails with an actual screwdriver could be a fun conversation starter and a great way to bring some cocktail trivia to your next cocktail party — using a brand new, clean, and sanitized one would be an obvious requirement.

The screwdriver isn't the only drink with an unsanitary story

The thought of stirring one's drink with a dirty worksite tool might be enough to make most people's stomach churn. But there are actually plenty of stories about even more unsanitary objects being used to stir liquor and mixers together — and they may be the reason behind other designations as well. For example, the Scotch and Drambuie mixture dubbed the rusty nail may have been dubbed as such after being stirred with an actual rusty nail.

Just as disturbing is the tale of how the general term cocktail may have come about. Supposedly, this started when a tail feather from a rooster was used to stir drinks. However, a more likely explanation appears to be that cocktail is just the American way of pronouncing the word used for such drinks in Bordeaux: coquetel. Ultimately it's hard to say whether a lot of cocktail culture lore is fact or fiction, but it makes a great story nonetheless. Next time you're slinging French Blondes and screwdrivers at a party, you can impress (or gross out) your guests with your cocktail knowledge.