The History of Mixology Part One: Jerry Thomas

Can you imagine happy hour without cocktails? Hard to believe that there was a time when there wasn’t a hipster bar on every corner boasting of its master mixologists skills. While the process of fermenting wine and distilling spirits has a long history, mixology’s history spans roughly only 200 years. So where does it all start? Mixology as we know it today started with a man named Jerry Thomas aka “Professor”.

“Cocktails” the way we see them today are credited to Americans, but if we are being completely honest the British deserve some credit for inspiring them. Back in the 18th century the British had punch houses that served exactly that, big bowls of punch made from a mixture of spirits, fruit juice, and spices. The term “cocktail” even originated in Great Briton in 1798. However, the term was not properly defined until 1806 in New York. By definition a cocktail should be a stimulating drink made up of a spirit, sugar, water, and bitters.

This was the evolution of the basic cocktail, but we aren’t talking about a basic cocktail. We are talking about mixology! Which brings us back to a young New Yorker named Jerry Thomas. Jerry learned bartending in New Haven, Connecticut before moving to Sn Francisco, California where he dabbled in the gold rush, bar tending, and even managing minstrel shows. By 1851 he owned his own bar back in New York. The first out of several bars he would own on top of the countless bars he would continue to travel to and work for.

Probably the greatest addition to his career as a bartender was new concept of readily available ice. Yes ice! His showmanship would mean nothing if it weren’t for ice. He would have gone on to being just a person who poured a shot or made warm drinks. Let’s face it a warm cocktail is a disappointment. When ice became readily available around the 1850’s Jerry was able to take cocktails from a basic concept to truly stimulating! The water component was no longer just adding water to a cocktail to take away the burn. Water became ice, which you now vigorously shake or stir with the other components to both chill end evenly dilute the mixture perfectly.       

Jerry Thomas became the “Professor” and was the father of mixology and bartending etiquette! He was known for being flashy and putting on a show for his customers. Tossing shakers, wearing lots of jewelry, and having a pure silver bartending kit. To this day he is the gold standard for what a good, no great bartender should be. He finally created the Bartenders Guide in 1862; the very first written collection of cocktail recipes that became the mainframe all future drinks to be built on.

This was the very beginning of mixology! Many of these basic concepts are still in use today. In fact, look at the picture and tell me you haven’t seen a bartended that looks like that.

The history of mixology is to be continued…

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