tom and jerrying.


The cocktail is warm, hearty, and festive.

This 19th-century warm, hearty, and festive cocktail still fights cold nights in the Midwest.

The Tom and Jerry’s origins are frequently traced back to a publicity stunt orchestrated by British journalist, Pierce Egan. The story goes that he added brandy to eggnog to create a signature cocktail to promote his 1821 book, Life in London. A subsequent play based on the book, Tom and Jerry, or Life in London, has additionally been associated with the beverage. While this remains unverified, Egan’s work did make a meaningful contribution to the drinking world: the phrase “Tom and Jerrying” which means indulging in loud, drunken behavior.

No definitive records exist about the drink’s first appearance stateside, but in 1862, the famed New York bartender Jerry Thomas published a recipe for a Tom and Jerry in his book, “How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-viant’s Companion.” (great title)

Historians are unclear as to why the Tom and Jerry became such a Christmas staple in the Midwestern United States, but it was popular enough to merit a cottage industry of Tom and Jerry drink sets, consisting of punch bowls and mugs inscribed with the drink’s name in Old English font. Milk glass Tom and Jerry sets were fairly common in the 1940s through the 60s. A New York Times article about the cocktail quotes author Jim Draeger, who surmised that the Tom and Jerry became a Wisconsin staple because the state has an affinity for brandy drinks, and is also a dairy state. Perhaps more than anything, the intense cold of the American Midwest has arguably solidified this warming drink’s staying power in the winter drinking traditions of the region.


  • 6 eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 ounce Jamaica rum
  • ¾ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Brandy or rum
  • Boiling water or hot milk
  • Grated nutmeg, to garnish


  1. Separate the eggs. Beat the whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks, then beat the yolks until they are, according to Thomas, “thin as water.”
  2. Add the spices and rum to the yolks, and continue stirring until incorporated. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.
  3. Thicken the mixture with sugar until it has the consistency of a light batter.
  4. Serve in standard coffee mugs. In each mug, mix two tablespoons of the batter with three tablespoons of brandy or rum. Top off with milk or water, or a combination of the two. Grate fresh nutmeg over the surface and serve.

note: we are currently dealing with blustery winds, blowing snow, white-outs, and single-digit – below zero temps, and i have always lived in the midwest (in michigan), but have never encountered or heard of this drink. any readers out there ever had this?

“heap on more wood – the wind is chill;

but let it whistle as it will, 

we’ll keep our christmas merry still.”

-sir walter scott

source credits: gastro obscura: rohini chaki, photo-sam o’brien, nyt

59 responses »

  1. first cab off the rank 🙂 never heard of the drink here in Oz but it sounds a jolly mixture to get the night going and keep the cobwebs away 🙂 diffrrent conditions down here, Beth: we’re heading for a 41 degree celsius Boxing Day high here. Cheers to all 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m from Kansas, have done extensive work in the art of ingesting large amounts of alcoholic beverages whilst not dying and have never heard of a Tom & Jerry or the term Tom & Jerrying. I am familiar, however, with a song by King Diamond about Tom & Jerry drinking Sherry till they became pretty liquored up. Maybe King Diamond knows something we don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ah, drinking raw eggs will be something that scientists and nutritionists will dispute as healthy or unhealthy. Honestly, it has no appeal to my taste buds, but if I were to lose my heating source, I could be talked into indulging to warm me from the inside out.

    Happy and merry holidays to you! Stay warm!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I can imagine the post war crowd in the 40s and 50s getting caught up in the glasses and the beverage as they gathered to celebrate the Christmas holiday with family and friends. My in-laws had quite the bar setup in their basement in rural western Ohio. My mother-in-law was a collector of glassware and I have seen milk glass, but I’ll check with my wife and a friend of hers who may remember seeing something like this..

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Pingback: A Terrific “Tom and Jerry” Recipe For Your Holiday Cheer Thanks To “I didn’t have my glasses on….” – Toast! – Bite! Eat! Repeat!

  6. I do make a mean eggnog which is not quite this – wasn’t allowed to step foot at my sister’s party empty-handed. Alas my father is no more and my other sister (the one who loved it, is off sugar and lactose so, why bother? Never heard of the Tom and Jerry, either. Happy Christmas to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. While I’m a California girl, my parents were from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania (not exactly the midwest). When I was small, they bought the batter. Since it contained alcohol, I didn’t think it was good at all. By the way, Mamma was born in 1916 and Dad in 1917. Perhaps age is an excellent indicator of who knows about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve never heard of this either but I loved learning about it and the recipe. I bought some eggnog just before Christmas to have for my brandy. When I got home I took a magnifying lens to the ingredients. End result, still have lots of brandy as the eggnog was mostly high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup. A name brand eggnog and I poured it down the drain. I’ll mix my brandy with Amaretto from now on. I think we should learn something new every day. Otherwise, why get up? Hope your Christmas was merry and may your New Years be bright.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: tom and jerrying.

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