Friday, September 23, 2011

The Professor and his Blue Blazer

In order to better understand the history behind many of the drinks I describe in this blog, I feel that it's important for you to know a little about the man who made it all possible, a man we call, The Professor.

Jeremiah P. Thomas was born in 1830 in Sacket’s Harbor, New York, a small port town on Lake Ontario.  Documentation of Thomas’ birth date and information on his youth is a mystery (much like Jesus) but instead of attending the Naval Mathematics School in his hometown, Jerry traveled to Connecticut to study bartending before becoming a sailor.  By 1848 the young Thomas headed west for gold and instead of mining for it, he mined the 49ers.  Why spend all day in the hot sun panning for gold when you could be slinging swill to the thirsty 90,000 gold seekers?

Thomas made a fortune during his years in San Francisco amassing wealth upwards of $16,000 (the equalivent of $300,000 today) With all that cash, Thomas had the opportunity to travel back East and spend (which he did well on women, ponies, and God knows what else) before opening his first bar under Barnum’s Museum in New York city.   A few years later as David Wondrich explains in his book Imbibe, Jerry embarked on an sporting journey across America and as far as London, tending bar at different establishments along the way.  

Thomas had style and a whole mess of talent. His flashy diamond cufflinks and solid silver bar tools were only part of his bottle juggling while tossing flaming drinks from glass to glass show. (The Blue Blazer was Thomas' signature drink, see below).  Thomas picked up the nickname “The Professor” due to his extensive knowledge of spirits and his ingenious concoctions and is still considered America’s most famous bartender. 

Thomas’ greatest contribution to modern mixology is The Bartending Guide, otherwise known as, How To Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion (the book was published under all 3 titles).  Similar books had been produced in Europe prior to Thomas’ 1st edition in 1862 and thousands have been written since.  It's important to note that Jerry broke the mold back in the day when he compiled all the knowledge from his extensive training and traveling into one American encyclopedia. 

After publication, Thomas opened his own famous bar on Broadway between 21st and 22nd with his brother George.  The bar itself was grand success but Thomas’ champagne tastes, and penchant for gambling caught up with him and even though the bar still had patrons, Thomas was forced to close it's doors. He sold the bar on Broadway, always threatening to open a new venue, but unfortunately never did. Thomas died of an apparent heart attack in 1885 at the age of 55 two years before the 3rd edition of his book was released.

The Professor left an amazing history in the pages of his guide book. Had it not been for Thomas’ willingness to break the bartending code and compile every beverage of the age into one volume, many of our most famous American cocktails would be lost. Thanks Jerry!!

The Blue Blazer
(Taken from David Wondrich's Imbibe, click here for an awesome video of David rocking out this drink)
I have not ever tried to create my own Blue Blazer because I'm pretty certain that my landlord would not be pleased if I set the whole place on fire (this also the reason I don't distill my own liquor so, don't do that either!!) But if you are brave enough, feel the supreme need to show off, and have a fire extinguisher handy, here is the recipe for the Blue Blazer.

2 silver plated mugs with handles
2 oz Scotch Whiskey
1 1/2 oz Boiling Water

Put the whiskey and the boiling water in one mug, ignite the liquid with fire, and while blazing mix both ingredients by pouring them four or five times from one mug to another as represented in the cut.  If well done, this will have the appearance of a continued stream of liquid fire.

Sweeten with one teaspoonful of pulverized white sugar, and serve in a small bar tumbler, with a piece of lemon peel.
Source: Jerry Thomas, 1862

It's a very, very, VERY cool drink to make , but don't blame me if you burn your house down!!!!!!!

To Jerry Ya'll!

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