The Tom and Jerry is a warm cocktail traditionally consumed during the winter holiday season in the United States and Canada. It is made with a batter consisting of eggs, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, which is then mixed with brandy, rum, or whiskey and hot milk or water.
The drink is typically served in a mug or a bowl, and is garnished with nutmeg on top. The Tom and Jerry cocktail has been enjoyed for over a century, and is believed to have originated in the Midwest region of the United States in the 1820s. It is often associated with the winter holidays, and is a favorite drink among those who enjoy warm, spiced beverages during the colder months.
The Complicated History of The Tom and Jerry
Theory 1: The Tom and Jerry Cartoon
The origin of the name “Tom and Jerry” for the cocktail is uncertain, but it is often thought to have been inspired by the popular cartoon characters of the same name created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in the 1940s. The cartoon featured a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry, and it is possible that the creators of the cocktail named it after the characters due to the drink’s warmth and comforting qualities, much like the friendship between Tom and Jerry. However, the cocktail itself predates the cartoon by over a century, so this theory is wrong!
Theory 2: The Jerry Thomas Claim
Now in case you didn’t already know, one of, if not the oldest and certainly the most well know, books on bartending is called “The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks” by Jerry (The Professor) Thomas published in 1862. According to the wonderful research found in David Wondrich’s book “Imbibe”, it is stated that Jerry Thomas himself told reporters that the famous cocktail was named after himself.
The Professor told the reporter
“One day in…1847, a gentleman asked me to give him an egg beaten up in sugar. I prepared the article, and then…I thought to myself ‘how beautiful the egg and sugar would be with brandy to it!” I ran to the gentleman and says I, ‘if you’ll only bear with me for five minutes, I’ll fix you up a drink that will do your heartstrings good.’ he wasn’t at all averse to having the condition of his heartstrings improved, so back I went, mix the egg and sugar, which I had beaten up into a kind of batter, with some brandy, then I poured in some hot water and stirred vigorously. The drink realized my expectations. It was the one thing I’d been dreaming of for months…I name the drink after myself, kinder familiarly: I had two small white mice in those days, one of them I had called Tom and the other Jerry, so I combined the abbreviations in the drink, as Jeremiah P. Thomas would have sounded rather heavy, and that wouldn’t have done for a beverage.”Imbibe by David Wondrich
So you might think this is the definitive answer. But you would be mistaken. Jerry Thomas was born in 1830, but there are countless written accounts of a drink called the Tom and Jerry from the 1830s and 1840s, and while it’s possible that Jerry Thomas learned to make his first Tom and Jerry during this time, definitively saying that the drink was first named after him is a stretch.
For a more detailed history of this account, definitely read David Wondrich’s Imbibe. There isn’t a better expert on the history of classic cocktails than this man.
We may never know the true origin of The Tom and Jerry. Either way, the drink has never quite mustered the popularity it did back in the day but for those in the know, it still remains one of the staples for a classic holiday cocktail.
If you are interested in finding more seasonal or winter-themed cocktails like the Tom and Jerry, click on our Top Ten Christmas Cocktails post here.