Tom and Jerry

Nope, it’s not a cartoon cat and mouse, and it wasn’t even named after them (although I have to wonder if they were named after it.) If you haven’t made aged eggnog, there’s only really one choice for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the venerable Tom & Jerry — a frothy, spiced eggnoggy concontion which is something you should turn into a holiday tradition.

Professor Jerry Thomas, our first great cocktailian bartender and the first to write a book about his craft (1862’s How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion), famously claimed to have invented this drink in the 1850s and named it for himself, but as the great man was prone to tall tales we can take that with a grain of salt — well, a salt mine, actually. His claim has been gently and fondly debunked of late, notably by both Dave Wondrich and Eric Felten in their recent tomes. No matter its origin, it remained a favorite for almost a century. In fact, several companies made custom Tom and Jerry serving bowls and mugs (check eBay; there are always several sets for sale. Homer Laughlin made one of my favorite designs.)

Even though he undoubtedly didn’t invent it there’s no reason we can’t toast the Professor along with the holiday season, though, as we quaff. The Tom & Jerry was once a staple of bars and homes for decades, although it’s fallen out of favor in the last 40 or 50 years. It’s a pity, because it’s a terrific drink. It’s about time that this holiday tradition returned to our tables.

There are a number of recipes floating about, more or less the same. Gary Regan of Ardent Spirits (and the author of the fabulous new book The Joy of Mixology) offers an all-in-one mix you ladle from a bowl, but the traditional method is to make a batter, then add spirits. Since some folks are a little leery of a raw egg batter, I’ll include both recipes here.

Tom and Jerry
(Traditional version)

Batter for 12 drinks:
12 eggs, separated.
3/4 cup sugar.
A touch of cinnamon, allspice and ground cloves, to taste.
12 ounces aged rum.
12 ounces brandy.
Very hot water or milk.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and beat until thin and ribbony. Fold the whites into the yolks, then add a few pinches of cinnamon, allspice and cloves to taste.

To serve, preheat your mugs with hot water or keep in a warm oven. For each drink add one heaping tablespoon of batter, 1 ounce rum, 1 ounce of brandy, then fill with nearly-boiling water or milk. Top with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Makes 12 drinks.


Tom and Jerry
(Premixed, “cooked” version)

12 eggs, separated.
1-1/2 cups sugar.
1 teaspoon baking soda.
9 cups milk.
3 cups aged rum.
3/4 cup brandy.
A touch of cinnamon, allspice and ground cloves, to taste.
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, 1-1/4 cups of the sugar, and the baking soda. Whisk until the mixture is creamy and thick.

2. Pour the milk into a large saucepan over moderate heat. Warm the milk until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and the milk is steaming hot.

3. Very gradually add some of the hot milk to the egg yolk mixture to warm it. Whisk continuously until all of the milk is incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set it over low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to lightly coat a spoon or until a thermometer reaches 160° to 165°F. Remove the pan from the heat and continue whisking for 2 minutes.

4. Stir in the rum and brandy, then add a few pinches of cinnamon, allspice and clove, to taste.

5. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter.

6. Ladle the Tom & Jerrys into warmed mugs and sprinkle each serving with a touch of freshly grated nutmeg.

Makes about 24 six-ounce drinks.

Thanks a million to Dr. Cocktail for serving these at his holiday party last year; I’m stealing this idea from him and making it an annual holiday tradition at our house.

Just one more … here’s libation goddess Audrey Saunders’ version:

Tom and Jerry
(21st Century version)

12 fresh eggs, yolks & whites separated.
2 pounds white sugar.
6 tablespoons fine Madagascar vanilla extract.
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves.
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice.
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, plus more for dusting.
4 dashes Angostura bitters.
6 ounces boiling milk, per drink.
1 ounce Bacardi 8 añejo rum per drink, plus 1 ounce for batter.
1 ounce Courvoisier VS Cognac, per drink.

Prepare the batter: Beat egg yolks until they are thin as water. Add sugar, spices, 1 ounce of rum, and vanilla to egg yolks (while beating). Beat egg whites until stiff and fold them into the egg yolk mixture. Refrigerate.

To serve: Place 2 ounces of batter in an Irish coffee mug. Add 1 ounce of rum, and 1 ounce of cognac. Fill with 6 ounces of boiling milk. Dust with freshly grated nutmeg.

(From Imbibe!, by David Wondrich)

By the way, speaking of which … if you STILL haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, hie thee to a bookstore and get Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe!, which’ll be the best present you could possibly give you your cocktailian (or even merely drinking) friends and family.

Add to that the aforementioned Eric Felten’s new How’s Your Drink?, as well as two more that I’ll review further a bit later on, Ti Martin and Lally Brennan’s In the Land of Cocktails, and Philip Collier’s Mixing New Orleans.

(Note — This article is an edited version of two posts I wrote in the old Looka! about this drink, on December 11, 2003 and again on December 24, 2007.)