Five of Chicago’s top bars celebrate bartending pioneer Jerry Thomas

Five of Chicago’s most iconic cocktail bars are coming together December 12 – 16 to celebrate the legacy of bartending’s first superstar, 19th century bon vivant Jerry Thomas.

The week-long “Jerry Thomas Celebration” features new inventive concotions inspired by Jerry Thomas’ original genever-based cocktails. Participating bars include Violet Hour, Office/ The Aviary, Bar Deville, Spilt Milk and Sportsman’s. The celebration is a collaboration with Lucas Bols, the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand and creator of Bols Genever.

The “father of American mixology”, Jerry Thomas was one of the champions of genever, the predecessor of gin and Holland’s national spirit. His star rose through his work in bars in the mid-19th century. In his collection of recipes of 1862 titled How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, Thomas included such Genever- or “Holland gin”-based drinks as the Improved Gin Cocktail, Gin Daisy, Gin Sour and many others. To this day many of the cocktails in modern bars trace their roots to the recipes in this book.

“Genever was the original cocktail gin,” renowned cocktail historian David Wondrich points out, “and indeed when the great American mixologists of the nineteenth century – the ones who drew the lines we’re all coloring inside today – said ‘gin’, nine times out of ten they meant ‘genever’. It’s what we drank.”

I had the pleasure of attending a media preview/bar crawl last week and the cocktails are amazing. It is well worth taking a bar crawl of your own – or visit one per night for the week. Here’s a sampling of what is in store:

  • Violet Hour: Genever Punch, created by David Gonsalves (1 750 bottle Bols Genever, 750 ml cold water, 2 oz. of Jamaican Rum, 1 cup sugar rested with the peels of 6 lemons overnight and the juice of those lemons)
  • The Aviary/The Office: All Ablaze With Diamonds, created by Alexis Tinoco (Bols Genever, parsnip syrup, Tonka- Kola syrup, Barsol Perfecto Amor, Lemon Juice, Parsley Tincture, bittered sling Kensington bitters, egg white and smoked salt )
  • Bar Deville: Deville Old Fashioned, created by Brad Bolt (Bols Genever, maple syrup, Angostura bitters and orange peel served on the rocks)
  • Spilt Milk: Stickpin Royale, created by Matty Eggleston (Bols Genever, Real McCoy 5yr Rum,  gum syrup infused with coconut and clove, orange bitters and Peychaud’s)
  • Sportsman’s: Standards & Practices, created by Graham Heubach (Bols Genever, Lustau Pedro Ximenez Sherry,  Jamaican rum, lemon juice, cucumber and absinthe)

Here are two of the recipes if you are so inclined to try them at home:

Spilt Milk – Stickpin Royale
Cocktail by bartender and co-owner: Matty Eggleston

1.5 Parts Bols Genever
.5 part  Real McCoy 5yr Rum
2 bar spoons gum syrup (infused with toasted coconut and clove)
1 dash orange bitters
1 dashPeychaud’s

Stir in mixing glass with ice. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice. Top with a splash of Champagne or quality sparkling wine. Garnish with orange peel coin pierced with a clove and skewered with a cherry.

Regarding Jerry Thomas: The name came from his purported outlandish style and appearance. While holding court behind the bar one was dazzled not only by his deft skill but stylish wardrobe that usually included a gem stick pin for his tie.


Violet Hour – The Genever Punch (served for 10 guests)
Cocktail by David Gonsalves

1- 750 bottle Bols Genever 1820
750 ml cold water
2 oz. of Jamaican Rum
1 cup sugar rested with the peels of 6 lemons overnight and the juice of those lemons

Method: prepare in a punch bowl and chilled with large ice center piece. Garnish: Lemon wheels and winter spices.

You can get much more information about the “Jerry Thomas Celebration” and follow the cocktail adventures through social media channels using the hashtag #toastingjerry. For more information on any of the bars, visit their websites.









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