When Should You Capitalize Cocktail and Food Names?

Is it “bloody mary” or “Bloody Mary”? Or “Swiss Cheese” or “swiss cheese”?

Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #266

cocktailDan E. asked, "Do you capitalize the names of cocktails, such as bloody mary and mimosa?" The question turned out to be more complicated that I initially imagined.

When Should You Capitalize Cocktail and Food Names?

Some cocktail names are easy to figure out because they go by the standard capitalization rules. If they don’t include something that would be a proper noun, such as a person’s name or a city name, don’t capitalize them. So “mimosa,” “mudslide,” and “pina colada” are all lowercase.>

Why Some Cocktails Aren’t Capitalized: “Manhattan” and “Daiquiri”

So far, so good. I thought drinks that had a person’s name, a country name, or city name would also follow the standard capitalization rules: they’re proper nouns, so they’d be capitalized. But that’s not the case because these names fall into a special category: they’re not literal uses of the proper nouns.

For example, most dictionaries and style guides recommend keeping “manhattan” lowercase when it is the name of a cocktail, because even though the name is derived from the city name Manhattan, it’s no longer associated with the city. They also recommend lowercase for “daiquiri,” even though the cocktail name comes from a city named Daiquiri in Cuba.

Cocktails That Are Sometimes Capitalized: “Bloody Mary” and “White Russian”

But sometimes it's hard to tell whether the drink name is still associated with a person or place. “Bloody Mary” is sometimes capitalized, for example, because it was the nickname for Queen Mary I of England. But I didn't know that until I looked it up. It turns out Mary I ruled during a time of significant religious strife, and she had so many Protestants killed that they gave her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” You could argue that the cocktail name is capitalized because "Mary" is a name, but "Margarita" is a Spanish name, and yet when you call a drink a margarita, it's lowercase. 

“White Russian” is also sometimes capitalized. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “White Russian” is the name of a language and a group of people in the region that used to be Russia.

However, I couldn't figure out why “White Russian” and “Bloody Mary” are sometimes capitalized, but “daiquiri” and “manhattan” aren’t.

Next: What Is the Chicago Style for Cocktail Names?


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