December 15: Jerry Thomas’ Last Call

JerryThomasLike many near-mythic figures, “Professor” Jerry Thomas’ exact birthday is unknown. So, instead, we’ll have to use the anniversary of his death on this day in 1885 to talk about the man known as “the father of American mixology.”

Thomas learned the bartending trade in New Haven, Connecticut, but his legend began in Gold Rush era San Francisco where he worked as a bartender, gold prospector and minstrel show manager. In 1851, he opened his first bar, a saloon beneath P. T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. From there, he became the bartending equivalent of Johnny Appleseed, traveling across America and working as head bartender at some of the finest bars and hotels in America’s largest cities.

Everywhere he worked, he taught others the tricks of the trade, and brought a special kind of flash and style to bartending. His bar tools were made of solid silver and encrusted with jewels. While mixing drinks he wore flashy clothes, cracked jokes and even juggled bottles. To top it all off, Thomas’ signature drink, the Blue Blazer was perhaps the craziest cocktail ever made. The Blue Blazer was made by lighting scotch on fire and tossing the flame between two brass mugs. While in midair, the flames would form a blue arc of fire, hence the name “Blue Blazer.” Thomas is depicted above making a Blue Blazer, and before you ask, I have no intention of teaching you how to make this flaming concoction.

Thomas’ greatest contribution to the art of drink making however was his 1862 book The Bar-Tender’s Guide (also known as How to Mix Drinks and The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). To say that The Bar-Tender’s Guide is important is an understatement. It’s widely believed to be the first published encyclopedic book of drink recipes. Thomas performed a remarkable feat with the text; taking the complete history of cocktail making, which was previously passed from bartender to bartender via oral tradition, and making it available to the public for the first time. It’s through Thomas’ book that we have recipes for Fizzes, Flips, Sours and Punches, plus many recipes that Thomas either created or discovered during his travels around the world. It’s the urtext of mixology and anyone who has ever gone looking for their next favorite drink in a recipe book, cocktail app or online drink database owes Thomas a debt of gratitude.

Today, raise a glass to the man whose cocktail research rightly earned himself the nickname “Professor” with one of his own creations. Jerry Thomas’ Prince of Wales Punch is a highly potent potable that was included in The Bar-Tender’s Guide. It’s a bit sweet, but also incredibly strong. It’s a drink that was definitely made with the rugged 1850 and 1860s in mind, but it’s also surprisingly festive. Hmm, a little flashy, a little festive, a little dangerous? Yeah, that sounds like Jerry Thomas alright.

Prince Of Wales Punch

  • 1/2 ring fresh chopped pineapple
  • 1 1/2 ounces Cognac
  • 3/4 ounce Aged Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 ounce Maraschino Liqueur
  • 1 1/2 ounces orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce Port

Muddle the pineapple in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add ice and the next five ingredients and shake. Strain the drink into a ice-filled highball glass and then float the port on top.

Tomorrow: We dress up as Indians and throw some cargo into Boston Harbor.

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