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When Should You Capitalize Cocktail and Food Names?

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

By
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?

What Is the Chicago Style for Cocktail Names?

The best advice I can give you is to pick a style and be consistent.

It turns out that whether you capitalize names of food or drinks that contain proper nouns is a style choice. The Chicago Manual of Style has the clearest rule: don’t capitalize these terms unless the names literally refer to the city or person. For example, Chicago says don’t capitalize “swiss cheese” unless you’re talking about cheese that comes from Switzerland. Following the Chicago rules, you wouldn’t capitalize the “french” in “french fries” or the “irish” in “irish coffee.”

What Is the Merriam-Webster Style for Cocktail Names?

Chicago does note, however, that they are in conflict with their own recommended dictionary, Webster’s Third, and indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary website recommends capitalizing “Bloody Mary,” the “Irish” in “Irish coffee,” and the “Swiss” in “Swiss cheese.” That’s why I was confused. I was looking for the answer in dictionaries that make individual determinations about the capitalization of each food or cocktail name instead of having a blanket rule.

The best advice I can give you when deciding whether to capitalize cocktails or other foods and drinks is to pick a style and be consistent. I’m going to follow Chicago style from now on because it’s the simplest.

Next: A Chart of How Different Style Guides Handle Food and Cocktail Names

Capitalization Style Comparison

Chicago Manual of Style

AP Stylebook

Merriam-Webster Online

bloody mary

bloody mary

Bloody Mary

manhattan

manhattan

manhattan*

irish coffee

irish coffee

Irish coffee

bellini**

Bellini

Bellini

french fries

french fries

french fries***

swiss cheese

Swiss cheese

Swiss cheese

 

* The entry includes a note that “manhattan” is often capitalized.

** Inferred from Chicago’s comments about other words and examples.

*** The entry includes a note that “french” is often capitalized.

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network and the author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional.

Cocktail image, Dusty J at Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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