Jerry Thomas: The Father of American Mixology and His Beliefs

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: January 20, 2024
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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Jerry Thomas was more than just a legendary bartender and mixologist; he was a pioneer who revolutionized the industry and inspired a generation of bartenders. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the man behind the myth, his life, his career, and the superstitions and beliefs he held. Join us as we delve into the fascinating world of Jerry Thomas and discover how his legacy continues to influence the art of bartending today.

Early Life and Career

Jerry Thomas, known as the “father of American mixology,” was born in Sackets Harbor, New York, in 1830. He started his career as a bartender at 18 and quickly became known for his innovative and theatrical approach to mixing drinks.

After working in various bars and hotels around the United States, Thomas eventually settled in San Francisco, where he became the head bartender at the Occidental Hotel. It was there that he gained fame and recognition for his creations, including the Blue Blazer, a fiery cocktail that involved pouring flaming whiskey from one mug to another.

Thomas was not only a skilled mixologist but also a showman, often wearing flashy clothing and performing tricks while making drinks. His reputation spread across the country, and he became a celebrity in the bartending world. In 1862, he published the first cocktail recipe book, “How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion,” which became an instant success and cemented his status as a pioneer in the industry.

How To Mix Drinks or A Bon Vivant's Companion

Notable Cocktails

Jerry Thomas pioneered mixology and is credited with creating many of the classic cocktails we know and love today. Here are a few of his most famous creations:

The Blue Blazer

The Blue Blazer is a fiery cocktail that was a signature of Jerry Thomas. It involves the bartender lighting whiskey on fire and tossing it back and forth between two mugs to create a show-stopping display of pyrotechnics. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 oz. Scotch whiskey
  • 2 oz. boiling water
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Mix the ingredients in a large metal mug, then light the mixture on fire using a long-handled match. Toss the flaming mixture back and forth between two mugs to create a stream of blue flame. Serve in a warm mug.

The Tom Collins

The Tom Collins is a classic cocktail that has been around for over a century. It’s a refreshing drink that’s perfect for a hot summer day.

His original recipe for the Tom Collins is slightly different from the modern version. In his recipe, Thomas used Old Tom gin instead of London dry gin and added a small amount of maraschino liqueur. The recipe also called for the use of gum syrup, a sweetener made with gum arabic, instead of simple syrup. Modern versions of the Tom Collins typically use London dry gin, and simple syrup and omit the maraschino liqueur. However, some bartenders today still use gum syrup to give the drink a slightly different texture and sweetness.

Here’s the modern recipe:

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. superfine sugar
  • Soda water
  • Ice

Combine gin, lemon juice, and sugar with ice in a shaker. Shake well and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda water and garnish with a lemon wedge.

The Martinez

The Martinez is believed to be the precursor to the modern Martini. It’s a complex cocktail with a balance of sweetness and bitterness. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 oz. Old Tom gin
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes of orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The Improved Whiskey Cocktail

The Improved Whiskey Cocktail is a variation of the classic Old Fashioned. It’s a bit more complex and involves a few more ingredients. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey
  • 1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. absinthe
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Lemon peel

Muddle the sugar cube with bitters in a mixing glass. Add rye, maraschino liqueur, and absinthe. Stir with ice until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

These cocktails are just a few of the many creations by Jerry Thomas that are still enjoyed today.

Learn how to make some of Jerry Thomas’ signature cocktails.

Superstitions and Beliefs

Jerry Thomas was a deeply superstitious man who believed certain rituals and practices were essential to creating the perfect cocktail. One of his most famous beliefs was that the bartender’s personality and energy could directly affect the drink’s taste. He believed that a bartender needed to have a positive attitude and project confidence to create a successful cocktail.

Thomas also believed in the power of the ingredients themselves, and he would often incorporate elements of nature into his drinks. For example, he believed that a sprig of mint would ward off evil spirits and enhance the flavour of a cocktail. He also believed that the perfect ice was essential to a good drink, and he would go to great lengths to source the best ice possible.

Another of Thomas’s superstitions was that the bar should always be clean and well-maintained, and he would often spend hours meticulously polishing his barware and equipment. He believed that a clean and organized bar would help create a more focused and harmonious environment for the bartender and the customer.

Overall, Jerry Thomas’s beliefs and superstitions were an essential part of his approach to mixology, and they continue to inspire bartenders today. Many of his practices, such as using fresh, high-quality ingredients and taking pride in the appearance of the bar, have become staples of modern mixology.

Legacy and Influence

Jerry Thomas’s legacy and influence on the cocktail industry is immeasurable. He is considered the father of American mixology and has inspired countless bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts around the world.

One of Thomas’s most significant contributions to the industry was the publication of his book, “The Bartender’s Guide,” which is still widely referenced and used today. His creative cocktails and techniques have become staples in the industry, and his influence can be seen in the menus of bars and restaurants worldwide.

Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How to Mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Furthermore, Jerry Thomas was instrumental in elevating the bartending profession to a level of respectability and sophistication that had not existed before. He made bartending a respectable profession and showed the world that it was possible to create beautiful and delicious cocktails that were both artful and profitable.

Today, bartenders continue to pay homage to Jerry Thomas by using his recipes and techniques, and his legacy lives on through the countless bars and restaurants that his work has influenced. Jerry Thomas’s contributions to the industry will always be remembered, and he will always be considered a true legend in the world of mixology.


Jerry Thomas was a true pioneer in the world of mixology, and his influence can still be seen today. His legacy lives on in the classic cocktails he created and the passion he had for his craft. Raise a glass to the father of American mixology and his enduring impact on the art of bartending.

Read David Wondrich’s excellent 2015 book Imbibe! if you’re interested in learning more about about his life.

Imbibe! Updated and Revised Edition: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar