The event was sold out for a couple weeks in advance and aficionados from far and wide including London and Seattle Gathered to trade notes on Thomas and the state of the cocktail generally. Take note this event needs to be reprised in cities around the country. Here is how you can pull off an event like this and do it on a tight budget. We were lucky to have the support of the Plaza Hotel as well as the Schieffelin & Somerset Co. spirit and wine group and their resident cocktail historian Jeff Pogash. Other sponsors like the distilled Spirits Council, Martini Rossi Vermouth also a local gourmet food shop Murray's Cheese Shop laid out a tremdous spread. Finally one of the Bartenders who participated is a designer in motion pictures and created a historically accurate period rendition for the evening's program.

The Drinks
David Wondrich made a long forgotten punch called the Arrack Punch, which according to David was old-fashioned when Thomas printed it in his book. The drink is based on a powerful spirit called Batavian Arrack, a distillate of molasses and red rice that weighs in at 116º…Yikes. The Arrack is combined with a heavy dark rum Coruba from Jamaica, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and filtered water. This drink seemed to go straight from mouth to brain with no stopover in the stomach!

I was tossing flaming Talisker scotch and water back and forth between two silver lined mugs all night trying to avoid setting my shoes on fire. The drink was the Blue Blazer and I would not advise it as a tableside presentation. The idea is to create a hot-toddy-like drink with some drama and showmanship. The drink is a bit difficult to execute for many reasons but the most important trick to a successful blazer is heating both the water and the scotch to almost the boiling point. I used one of those stainless coffeepots that sits on a heating element that will boil water in minutes and heat scotch even faster. I kept turning it on and off to avoid overheating the volatile alcohol. Mix the two in equal amounts, light and begin the show. The second trick to the drink is finding the proper mugs to pull off the effect with a minimum of bodily harm.

I finally located the perfect mugs in the antique stalls in the back streets of Islington, London. Two silver lined mugs with a rim the feathered away to an edge like a spout all round for easy pouring.The silver handles were insulted from the silver lining by attaching to the mug half on wooden strips that were held in place by silver bands and this prevented the handles from getting too hot to handle. After pouring the flaming liquid back and forth about four times, transfer the hot liquid to appropriate glasses, maybe with handles to protect from the heat Add a whisper of sugar to take away the burn and a lemon zest twisted over the drink. It goes down with ease on an icy night like we experienced the evening of the event.

Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh made one of my favorites in the book the Brandy Crusta. This grand daddy of the Sidecar is a combination of cognac, curacao, lemon juice and a dash of Boker's bitters. Since Bokers Bitters didn't make to the other side of prohibition Ted had to take out his chemistry set and using a 19th century recipe recreate the essence. The drink has a dramatic garnish that also adds lots of flavor. The rim of the glass is moistened with lemon juice and coated with a fine frost of sugar and then a long wide swath of lemon peel is tucked into the mouth of the glass and as the drink is sipped the liquid flows over the lemon peel. Sasha Petraske the owner of Milk & Honey Bar here in New York City as well as a partner in the London M & H prepared the Gin Daisy.

The program tells us that in Victorian times Daisy was slang for marvelous. The drink referred to a combination of a spirit with a couple sweeteners, usually curacao and simple syrup that is topped with sparkling water. The Daisy was not officially a Thomas drink, it did not appear in the original edition of his book. Later editions that were published without his participation included the daisy category. Robert Hess who created the authoritative and popular cocktail site prepared a Japanese Cocktail. This drink like the crusta calls for Boker's Bitters so Robert not satisfied with the commercial offerings created his own aromatic bitters to spice this early cocktail.

The Japanese Cocktail was one of only thirteen drinks that appeared in the cocktail and crusta category in Thomas's first edition. Mix two ounces of Hennessy cognac and a tablespoon of orgeat syrup (almond flavored) and lemon peels to be stirred together to chill. It may have been this vein that Victor Bergeron was mining when he created his famous Mai Tai which combined 16year old rum with orgeat, lime and curacao. George Papdakis the head bartender of the Plaza celebrates fifty years with the hotel this year and he added ballast to the evening with a New York Classic the Manhattan. George made his version of the classic with Wild Turkey Rye, New York was a rye town in the 19th century, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, bitters and a little twist, a couple dashes of Grand Marnier. Gary Regan gave us a stage in the evolution of the martini cocktail he prepared the Martinez Cocktail. The recipe described in later editions of Thomas's book as an Old Tom gin version of the Manhattan paired sweetened gin and sweet vermouth with a couple other sweet ingredients including maraschino liqueur and simple syrup as an optional ingredient. Angostura bitters of course was included but Gary decided to defer to modern tastes and dry the drink out a bit with Tanqueray gin and mercifully no simple syrup. Audrey Saunders the talented beverage manager at the Carlyle Hotel rounded out the evening nicely with a steaming Tom & Jerry. Thomas probably didn't invent this drink after all, but it has been paired with his name so much and he was so famous for his presentation of it that ownership is not an issue. Audrey's version was spicy, rich, and completely scrumptious. There was genuine passion for the American mixed drink called the cocktail at the Thomas event, parrion that has been looking for a release. I am more and more delighted to see the excitement that anything concerning the cocktail create not just in the small group of practitioners but in general public. People love cocktails and the lore that surrounds them.

The Father of the Cocktail

Dateline New York City March 3rd 2003, The plaza Hotel's historical Oak Room was the scene of a tribute to the Father of the modern bartending profession Jerry Thomas. This extraordinary showman and entrepreneur authored what is widely considered to be the first modern cocktail book, How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivants Companion. Slow Food New York City along with David Wondrich, Esquire columnist and author of Esquire Drinks produced this sterling tribute to Thomas's drinks. Eight bartenders including your truly were on hand to present the drinks, most of which were lifted from the 1862 first edition of Thomas's book.

April 2003

By Dale DeGroff