Cocktails are not strictly American. A look at nearly any cocktail book suggests drinks that originate in any number of places. The idea of the cocktail itself evolved from previous generations of drinks celebrated and consumed around the world. (The long history of cocktails an amazing, wandering, wonderful, convoluted journey that we aren’t going to cover in one blog post, but if you’re interested, stay tuned.) However, Americans have played no small role in the development, sharing, and continued enjoyment of the cocktail.
Earlier this year, Special Collections was very pleased to acquired a first edition, third printing of the first American cocktail manual, published in 1862: How to mix drinks, or, The bon-vivant’s companion : 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 / by Jerry Thomas ; to which is appended A manual for the manufacture of cordials, liquors, fancy syrups, &c., &c. ..Illustrated with descriptive engravings, the whole containing over 600 valuable recipes. by Christian Schultz.(Technically, this book is a two-for–it contains Jerry Thomas’ book, usually known by it’s short title, How to Mix Drinks, or, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, as well as the added manual on distilling and manufacturing cocktail ingredients, by Christian Schultz. And it’s a great two-for, at that. The two books make for a natural fit.)
Jerry Thomas was a man with a fascinating life story, one that could easily take over this blog post. Luckily, you can read about it elsewhere, if you go looking–this post is about his book! Schultz, on the other hand, seems a bit of a mystery. However, this seems fitting, when you consider the history of the American cocktail. Some drinks and ingredients have obvious origins, some have variations of wild stories with many people laying claim, and still others are shrouded in mystery. (Good luck discovering the exact herbs that go into some of those amazing, European made cordials!)
The history and evolution of Thomas’ original bartenders manual is no secret, though. Thomas himself produced at least one expanded version before his death in 1885. After that, his recipes (original and unoriginal) were reproduced faithfully and less-than faithfully in many ways. We’ve seen his influence on the blog before, when we talked about The Savoy Cocktail Book. And Special Collections also includes a 1934 edition of The Bon Vivant’s Companion; or, How to Mix Drinks, by Professor Jerry Thomas. Edited, with an introduction by Herbert Asbury, first published in 1928. Several recent publications, too, are bring Thomas back into the spotlight. Even after 151 years, the first American manual for bartenders is influencing cocktail fans everywhere.
Reproducing Thomas’ drink at home can be a bit of a challenge for the modern cocktail enthusiast (dangers of the Blue Blazer aside–please DO NOT try that one at home), but it isn’t impossible. Homemade bitters and syrups are seeing a revival at home and in cocktail bars. The ideas of a “gill” or a “wine-glass” do have modern equivalents. So if you’re feeling brave, whip up some raspberry syrup. Even if you decide you don’t like the cocktail you tried, it might just do wonders for some ice cream…