Dirty cocktail names: Is it the end?

14 November, 2019

There are lies, damn lies, statistics – and then there are statistics about cocktails. It emerged recently that a UK firm named Travel Republic surveyed punters, and apparently 29% of them disapprove of sexually suggestive cocktail names.

This firm, however, released this data point as part of promoting what it calls Wokecations, for people who are into “avoiding causing offence and seeking out more mindful experiences”. Travel Republic seems to be doing all this very tongue-in-cheek, so it’s not a stretch to assume it massaged the survey results to get a press-release-friendly quote to support headlines such as ‘One in three holidaymakers turned off by saucy cocktail names’, which in turn drive traffic to its website. 

It’s far more likely that’s the case than that one in three British people are prudish about drink names. British people like a bit of innuendo; why, a female London bartender birthed one of the racier cocktail names of its era, the Hanky Panky, way back in 1925 at the Savoy. Another 1920s drink, the Between the Sheets, is usually credited as the First Daring Cocktail Name, and is
thus spiritual parent to the Sex on the Beach, the Long Slow Comfortable Screw Up Against the Wall, the CSCowboy(look it up) and a host of others. Yes, these names are a bit childish perhaps, and so are their frequently fruit-forward flavour profiles, but what’s wrong with a bit of youthful exuberance? These drinks are aimed at adults – young adults, perhaps, but adults nonetheless. The Pornstar Martini is a case in point; originally named the Maverick Martini (after a strip club), it didn’t sell very well until its creator, Douglas Ankrah, changed the name to Porn Star Martini. Renamed, it quickly became a bestseller. So much so that Douglas has launched his own bottled version, the P-Star Martini, and there are copycat products such as supermarket chain Marks & Spencer’s canned Porn Star Martini.

M&S recently got a slap on the wrist from the Portman Group regulatory body, who couldn’t see why M&S didn’t just call it a Passion Fruit Martini (M&S actually rebranded it a Passion Star Martini) instead of inflaming the, er, passions of gullible consumers with a suggestive name. Well, I can tell you why. It’s because Passion Fruit Martini isn’t as good a name as Porn Star. Names are crucial to a cocktail’s success, because consumers may not know what’s in a cocktail, but they know how its name sounds. Giving a great drink a lifeless name is like buy- ing a Lamborghini and respraying it beige. It’s like buying your jeans from Target or Asda instead of from Mr Strauss. Why did the Portman Group bring this complaint against M&S and force it to change the name? It was “acting in lieu of a member of the public who expressed concern”. 

So, the point of view of a single person was listened to, but not that of the literal millions of people who queue to order Porn Star Martinis up and down England every week? (The CGA market research firm’s 2018 report states that more than one in seven cocktails ordered in the UK is a Porn Star). Perhaps we do live in prudish times, after all.

Keywords: Philip Duff

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