Snap...crackle...the flames jump from shot to shot as the fire slowly sizzles the hair on the bartender's dextrous fingers. The bartender plays it no mind...he's been here before. In fact, he created this magic. This particular bartender has become somewhat of a local celebrity. Bars around the world compete for him to serve their guests the perfect cocktail. But who was the father of Mixology? How did Jerry Thomas become so famous? What separated him from the rest.
Who was America's First Bartender?
Jerry Thomas came from humble beginnings and learned the craft of bartending in New Haven, Connecticut before setting off on the Gold Rush in California. Facing the bitter truth and failing to strike gold, Thomas headed back to the East Coast where his bartending career would take off. Jerry Thomas as his career progressed took on an almost mythical lore similar to a Davy Crockett or Geronimo. He became the most sought after bartender by the most prestigious hotels across the country and even made a stop in London, where he brought the craft of American cocktails across the pond.
But how did Jerry Thomas become the Father of Mixology? Thomas had an illustrious career that began in New Haven and slowly made his way across many of the great American cities. He spent time in St.Louis, New Orleans, Charleston, Chicago and worked/led many different bars. We are in no doubt that he picked up many lessons and different drinks recipes from each of these separate towns. When he started his career, cocktail making in the United States largely consisted of punches or distilled alcohol mixed with a bit of sugar. Jerry Thomas was one of the first to experiment with bitters.
As Jerry Thomas began to have initial success, like any showman, seized the opportunity and began to embellish and put on a show for his customers. He became famous for wearing an extraordinary amount of diamonds. Starting with the cufflinks, to his buttons, and plethora of diamond rings. He fundamentally understood that drinking was for entertainment and while a cocktail alone is enjoyable. Part of the fun is watching the craft.
Jerry Thomas is credited with crafting the first cocktail books. His first cocktail book was called three separate names "The Bartenders Guide", "How to Mix Drinks" and also "The Bon-Vivant's Companion". While bartenders across the country were surely mixing drinks prior to these books. These books are the first examples of the craft being codified for future use.
Bartenders Guide Jerry Thomas
The Bartenders Guide was the first iteration of the cocktail book by Jerry Thomas. As you finger your way through the pages you'll find many familiar cocktails surrounded by many unfamiliar. The Manhattan is first mentioned in this cocktail book. If you scroll down a bit, we included a snippet including the original recipes. What's incredible is that Angostura Bitters, was mentioned all the way back in the 1860s, and yet we can still purchase the same bitters to recreate the drink, exactly as Thomas would have wanted. The 1862 Bartenders Guide was the gold standard on how to mix drinks.
Want to learn why we use rotted herbs to season our drinks? Check out What Are Bitters and Why Do We Drink Them.
How To Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion
The second iteration of his cocktail book was named How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant's Companion. While the books have different titles, the contents of both the Bar tender's Guide and How to Mix Drinks contain the same content. You'll find references to the Mint Julep as well as the manual for the manufacture of cordials liquors fancy syrups etc by Christian Schultz which was an appendage to the original cocktail book.
What Cocktails did Jerry Thomas Create?
While it's undetermined whether or not Jerry Thomas created the Manhattan, the first written reference to this cocktail is within the Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide. You will see a reference to cordials liquors fancy syrups etc included as well. The Gum Syurp being one of them.
Perhaps Thomas's most famous cocktail creation was the Blue Blazer. The Blue Blazer involved two separate mixing glasses that Thomas would proceed to light on fire. He would then pass the flame from one mixing glass to the next. Remember, this was before the creation of the traditional shaker as we know it. So he was perfecting his craft with good old fashioned glassware.
The Sad End to Jerry Thomas' Career
At the pinnacle of Jerry Thomas' career, he was pulling in about 100$ a week at the Hotel Occidental. Which for context, was more than what was paid to the Vice president at the time. Adjusted for inflation its about 3000$ a week. In today's standards, not that much. More of an inditement of the Vice President's salary than the boon of Thomas' career.
Nonetheless, it was a healthy living that he inevitably squandered on jewels and diamonds and a lavish lifestyle. Supposedly he died broke after a poor investment. Strangely, he was buried in Iowa instead of his traditional residence in New York.
When Thomas was buried, he was already a legend. Most of America's prominent newspapers, especially the ones in New York, ran front page articles on the death of America's first true Bartenders and the Father of Mixology.
Interested in the Pages of Thomas Books?
Fortunately for use, the site of digital library EUVS contains a digital free version of the 1862 published book edition.
Take a look : https://euvslibrary.com/?p=394
How To Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant's Companion is also available online.