The Bon Vivant's Companion
It’s been 150 years since Jerry Thomas’s seminal cocktail book was first published. To mark the occasion, Clinton Cawood collects some cocktails created by UK bartenders in tribute to the great man
It would be difficult to imagine the contemporary world of cocktails without the influence of American bartending legend Jerry Thomas and his 1862 publication How to Mix Drinks. Also known as The Bar-Tender’s Guide and The Bon Vivant’s Companion, it was the world’s first cocktail book, and remains a must-read for bartenders everywhere today.
The opening page summarises its mission thus: ‘Containing clear and reliable directions for mixing all the beverages used in the United States, together with the most popular British, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish recipes, embracing punches, juleps, cobblers, etc, etc, etc, in endless variety.’ Among those categories is the cocktail (‘a modern invention’), listing 10 different recipes.
He’s simply described in the book as ‘formerly principal Bar-tender at the Metropolitan Hotel, New York, and the Planter’s House, St. Louis’, but Thomas lived a colourful life, known for his flamboyant dress sense and spectacular showmanship – not least in the creation of his famous, flaming Blue Blazer. He’s said to have begun his career in Connecticut, before following the gold rush west to California and embarking on a peripatetic life that took him across the US and over to Europe, where he purportedly put in a bartending stint in London in 1859.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of his classic drinks guide, we asked a clutch of contemporary bartenders to create a bibulous tribute in his honour.
MARIAN BEKE, Nightjar
The idea for this twist on a classic from Jerry Thomas’s book came from the Sherry Cobbler in particular, and from the Cobbler family in general. These were wine-based drinks, served with shaved ice in a tall wine glass.
I based this on red wine – red vermouth in particular. I was thinking of what would pair well with red wine, and the first match was chocolate. As a rule cobblers contain fruit, and red wine and chocolate both work well with berries, so I included fresh cranberries as they have high acidity and are a bit unusual.
Lastly, I was looking for spice to work with this and found a great match between chilli and chocolate. I was afraid that some people would be put off by such a strong spice, so we use Szechuan buttons – also known as electric buttons. These flowers deliver a tingling sensation, and I used them to make the Electric Bitters that are in this drink.
Glass: Wine glass
Garnish: Ice basket, bitter chocolate spoon and balsamic vinegar-washed berry fruit
Method: Shake and strain.
40ml red vermouth
Dash of 24V Electric Bitters
12.5ml chocolate eau de vie
10ml mixed berry liqueur
7.5ml vanilla maple syrup
10 fresh cranberries
Juice of half a lime
JAKE BURGER, The Portobello Star
Jerry Thomas was a wonderful character, and one who I frequently use to help tell the story of the arrival of the cocktail age during my gin classes at The Ginstitute – where we’re lucky enough to have an original Jerry Thomas business card from his time at the Central Park Hotel circa 1888. He must have been quite the sight in all his finery, throwing Blue Blazers in great arcs above his head. It's no wonder he became such a celebrity.
I think the book has some great drinks in it – it’s not as complete a book as Harry Johnson’s in my opinion, but the fact that it was the first one out of the blocks is of course important. The drink I have chosen to re-imagine is The Fancy Gin Cocktail.
I'd not be so bold as to suggest improvements on The Professor’s recipe, so I’ve just suggested modern brands and measurements which I feel will make the drink appeal to the modern drinker.
Jerry Thomas was clearly a great bartender, a great self-promoter, an innovator and character. We can guess that he wasn’t quite such a great businessman from the number of ventures he was involved in over the years, but his place in history and in the hearts of bartenders is assured. We’ll not see his like again.
The Fancy Gin Cocktail
Glass: Small cocktail glass
Garnish: Lemon twist
Method: Stir with ice and strain.
62.5ml Portobello Road Gin
5ml Pierre Ferrand Curaçao
5ml gomme syrup
4 dashes Bob’s Abbotts Bitters
ADAM ELMEGIRAB, Evo-lution consultancy and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters
There can be no doubt that the legacy left by Professor Jerry Thomas is one that is unrivalled by any person who’s ever had the privilege to call themselves a bartender.
Even 127 years after his passing in 1885, my own career has been shaped by his accomplishments. Through my work on the Jerry Thomas Project, where I've been recreating every drink from Thomas’ 1862 book The Bar-Tender’s Guide, I’ve gained new insight, knowledge and a deeper understanding of the foundations laid down by our forefathers. That project also gave rise to my own brand, kick-started by a reformulation of Jerry’s favourite bitters, Boker’s.
This new Golden Age is a melting pot of innovation and rebirth, but across the globe drinks lists still feature the Martinez, Crusta or Japanese Cocktail. Who knows if they’d have been as popular had Thomas not listed these in his tome.
The New Haven Crusta is named after his birthplace, whilst also being a symbolic name, considering it’s both modern (New) and harks back to tried-and-tested methods (Haven). I’m confident it’s a drink the Professor would approve of.
New Haven Crusta
Garnish: Sugar crust and thick strip of lemon zest wrapped around the inside of the glass
Method: Add all ingredients to mixing glass, fill with cubed ice and shake hard for 10 seconds.
50ml Ocho Curado
20ml Lillet Rose
25ml fresh lemon juice
5ml orgeat syrup
3 dashes Dr Adam Emelgirab’s Boker's Bitters
CHRIS HOY, ex-Ginger's Bar
This is the book that every bartender knows, or should know about, and starts to learn about in the infancy of their bartending. I’ve bought the book six or seven times – I would often give my copy to someone I was training. In fact, I was looking through my collection a few days ago, and I don’t think I have a copy at the moment...
Thomas, for me, hit the nail on the head and started making everybody think it’s not just a drink, but has to be decorated correctly, and given some love and passion. He was the first flair bartender – not flair in the way we know it, but in using his personality as flair. He’s undeniably a key influence.
Going into last year’s Chase Cup, I looked at the judging panel and thought that even if I didn’t know what I was going to get in the mystery box to use, I had a rough idea of the style I needed to go for. The cobbler is as simple as it comes: spirit, slices of fruit, sugar, ice, shake. I won that competition.
Rosemund Ruby Cobbler
Glass: Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade jar
Method: Muddle ginger, add other ingredients, shake and strain over cubed ice
30ml Chase Marmalade Vodka
20ml Chase Rhubarb Liqueur
7ml ruby port
1 slice fresh ginger
ALEX KRATENA, Artesian at The Langham
Jerry Thomas’ book was one of the first things I got, related to cocktails. My mum photocopied it page by page at her work (during office hours).
I love the fact that Jerry Thomas was not only a great bartender, but also a true bon vivant: stylish, slick and well-dressed while travelling, smoking cigars, gambling, making a lot of money, and doing all sorts of other fine things!
This drink is served in his Blazer mug. I would serve it to him after he finished his shift at the bar. Actually, if I lived back in those days, I’d serve it if he came to The Langham – the hotel had already been opened by then.
Portland Place Shrub
Glass: Jerry Thomas tankard
Garnish: Artesian logo ice/lemongrass whip
Method: Roll twice.
50ml Bacardi 8
30ml Artesian shrub (house made)
100ml Meantime Wheat Beer
15ml fresh lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Bob’s Mandarin Bitters
1 dash rosewater
JASON SCOTT, Bramble and The Last Word Saloon
The most impressive thing to me is that a professional bartender of Thomas’ period wasn’t just expected to be an exemplary host, entertainer and crafter of cocktails, but also have the expertise and knowledge to prepare bitters, shrubs, cordials and so on, as these products weren’t available.
In this day and age, some of Thomas’ drinks can seem rather unbalanced and potent, but that’s to be expected – palates and products are bound to have changed in 150 years.
This drink may come across as an exhaustive list of ingredients and methods but hopefully it’s worth the effort and the result. It’s inspired by Thomas’ Gin Sangaree (Toddy) and The Last Word cocktail.
Joker & The Thief
Glass: Stemmed highball
Garnish: Vanilla straw*, big sprig of fresh mint, maraschino cherry (not the plastic variety) and grated nutmeg
Method: Pour first five ingredients over cracked ice in glass and stir. Drizzle over Kilchoman Bramble liqueur to create bleeding effect.
40ml The Botanist Islay Dry Gin 20ml fresh lime juice
12.5ml Kilchoman Bramble liqueur
10ml Yellow Chartreuse
3 dashes grapefruit and chamomile bitters (house made)
*To make a vanilla straw take one vanilla pod and trim off both ends. Insert a swizzle stick to remove all the seeds until its hollow. Then feed a wooden skewer (a chop stick works well) through the pod ‘cylinder’. Place on a tray in an oven at 100°C for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool for five minutes and then slide it off the skewer. The straw should be slightly malleable but maintain its shape.
GEORGE MATZARIDIS, Hakkasan
I like the measurements that are used in the cocktails in Thomas’ book. They’re unlike modern-day cocktail books that give you the right amount of ml or oz. A lot of cocktails in the Jerry Thomas book have measurements like ‘wine glasses’, ‘mugs’, ‘pony glass’ etc. These can all vary from place to place, so if you make drinks from the book, you need to add your personal touch to balance, which brings out your personality in the cocktail.
The idea for this Jerry Thomas tribute cocktail came from the fact that he made many cognac cocktails, and in this same style; stirred, primarily consisting of alcoholic ingredients and bitters. With the inclusion of plum saké, the cocktail has a Japanese element – it will soon be featured on a new cocktail list at Hakkasan. I think that good cognac cocktails are hard to find, so I chose to make my own.
Bon Vivant’s Coupette
Garnish: Slice of plum and star anise
Method: Add cubed ice, stir for 45 seconds, double strain.
35 ml Hennessy Fine de Cognac
30 ml umeshu plum saké
15 ml Bénédictine DOM
3 drops chocolate bitters
3 drops grapefruit bitters
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July/August 2012