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April 14, 2009
You might not have heard of Jeremiah (Jerry) P. Thomas, but he was as much of a pioneer, in his own way, as Buffalo Bill Cody.
He was the Escoffier of the bar, perfecting his art at San Francisco's Occidental Hotel in the late 1800s.
He codified hundreds of cocktails, some that were his own, in the first ever bartending recipe book, "Jerry Thomas' Bartender's Guide." (Alternately titled “How to Mix Drinks” or “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.”)
He literally wrote the book. Or books.
A New York Times article stated that Thomas was an inventor and showman who established the principles for mixed drinks of all categories and remade the bartender's image into a creative professional.
It was a different age then.
The cocktail shaker hadn't been invented. Bartenders tossed their ingredients back and forth between two mixing glasses. Ice came in solid blocks, and you had to chip away with a pick to fill a glass.
Now, we have mixologists. The lines between them and bartenders are blurring, possibly depending on how many cocktails you've had, but mixology is accepted to be the refined, higher study of mixing cocktails.
The all-important bartender is the one that you hope does a good pour.
Dale DeGroff is a master mixologist, founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail, who has studied Thomas' reference books and is putting is own stamp on classic cocktails in venerable establishments like the Rainbow Room.
Today, if you peek open a cocktail menu, you'll liable to see the fruits of many mixology seminars, like this concoction from the Stork Club in New York City, one of the few bars that kept martini making alive in the decades just after Prohibition:
3/4 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice, 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice 1 1/2 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge. Shake vigorously.
(I recently had a $30 Singapore Sling at the Long Bar at Raffles where it originated, which you can come close to duplicating for about $29 less.)
With Jerry Thomas' book, a couple of mixing glasses, some ice, you can probably put on quite a show yourself.
So...entertaining at home or going out, what do you like? Your own twist on the classics? What's on your cocktail menu?
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Although billiards has gotten an unsavory reputation through the years, no game requires more skill.