Tom & Jerry: A Drink Steeped In The American Midwest's Heritage
Image Credit: Pond5

WHEN it comes to Christmas libations, one cocktail plays a crucial role in a revered tradition. Emanating from the American Midwest, the Tom and Jerry is a Christmas concoction steeped in mystery and embraced with fervour. While its popularity flourishes within the frost-kissed landscapes of the region, this delightful cocktail still remains a well-kept secret beyond its borders.

At first glance, the Tom and Jerry bears a resemblance to the beloved eggnog, but its essence carries a unique charm that has captivated the hearts of Midwesterners for generations. The classic recipe, shrouded in nostalgia, unravels a delicate dance of separated eggs. The whites, whipped into snowy peaks, create an ethereal froth, while the yolks join forces with sugar and warm spices, mingling in a harmonious union. Together, they form an exquisite "batter"—a gateway to a symphony of flavours. Even though one may never hear such terms being associated with a drink, Tom and Jerry’s “batter” lends exclusivity to the cocktail.

Traditionally, the Tom and Jerry is enjoyed as a punch, inviting its loyal patrons to partake in a shared indulgence. Ladled from special Tom and Jerry punch bowls, the sweet batter is poured into cocktail mugs, and then mixed thoroughly with hot milk or water. A splash of rum or brandy adds a gentle warmth, infusing the elixir with a crackling kick. Finally, a sprinkle of nutmeg crowns this velvety drink with its aromatic undertone, elevating the senses and tantalising the taste buds.


Delving into the origins of the Tom and Jerry unveils a tapestry interwoven with stories and legends. Among the tales, one narrative traces its roots to the ingenious mind of British journalist Pierce Egan. As the story goes, Egan sought to promote his literary masterpiece, Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, by blending brandy with eggnog—a stroke of genius that birthed a signature cocktail. The subsequent stage adaptation, aptly titled Tom and Jerry, or Life in London, further solidified the drink's association. Yet, while this origin story weaves a captivating narrative, its authenticity remains questionable, owing to the passage of time. Nevertheless, Egan's contribution to the world of liquor left an indelible mark, gifting the world with the colourful phrase "Tom and Jerrying"—an ode to spirited revelry and uninhibited merriment.

Amidst the swirling anecdotes, the name of renowned mixologist Jerry Thomas also claims importance. Often hailed as the father of modern mixology, Thomas boasted his own rendition of the Tom and Jerry. Although his 1862 opus How to Mix Drinks (or The Bon-Vivant's Companion) presented a similar egg-based drink, the consensus among historians tends to lean toward Egan as the true originator. Thomas's claims about the cocktail's invention were fueled by his own published recipe and his unwavering assertion during a widely quoted 1880 interview conducted by esteemed reporter Alan Dale. 

Yet, a revelation from the annals of history casts doubt on these proclamations—a compelling article published in the Salem Gazette of Massachusetts on March 20, 1827, a full three years prior to Thomas's birth. This historical artefact explicitly references the Tom and Jerry by name, outlining its ingredients and further deepening the intrigue surrounding the cocktail’s creation. The excerpt reads as follows ~

“At the police court in Boston, last week, a lad about 13 years of age was tried for stealing a watch, and acquitted. In the course of the trial, it appeared that the prosecutor [the plaintiff] sold to the lad, under the name of "Tom and Jerry," a composition of saleratus [baking soda], eggs, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and rum. A female witness testified that the boy... appeared to be perfectly deranged, probably in consequence of the 'hell-broth' that he had been drinking.”  ~  Salem Gazette, 1827

During its prime in the early to mid-1900s, the Tom and Jerry cocktail held court as the epitome of holiday indulgence. Its popularity soared, sparking the creation of specialised punch bowl sets exclusively designed to serve the drink. Adorned with the words "Tom and Jerry," these vessels stood as proud emblems of the festive tradition. Though the passage of time may have dimmed its once-ubiquitous presence, the Tom and Jerry never truly fell out of favour in the American Midwest. Within the heartland, one can readily find pre-made batter, simplifying the art of conjuring this beloved drink within the warmth of one's own home.


The reasons behind the Tom and Jerry's ascent as a Christmas staple in the Midwestern US remain a topic of speculation among historians. Yet, a prevailing theory posits that the Tom and Jerry found solace in the affectionate embrace of the Wisconsin populace due to the state's affinity for brandy-infused cocktails and its well-deserved reputation as the dairy haven of the nation. Furthermore, one cannot overlook the transformative power of frigid winters that have bestowed this heartwarming elixir with an unwavering place in the winter drinking traditions of the region.

In fact, with each passing year, the Tom and Jerry cocktail has experienced a renaissance, garnering attention from enthusiasts and mixologists alike, eager to revive this nostalgic treasure. Its charm stretches beyond the borders of the American Midwest, captivating younger generations with its velvety embrace and decadent goodness. The once-forgotten punch bowl sets, bearing the elegant inscription of "Tom and Jerry," now garner attention as cherished relics from a bygone era—a testament to the enduring legacy of this beloved Christmas tradition.

In an age where innovation and novelty often take centre stage, the Tom and Jerry cocktail stands as a reminder of the beauty embedded in tradition. It is a celebration of the time-honoured flavours, the rich history, and the profound sense of togetherness that accompany the holiday season. Its second coming of sorts has been aided by more pubs featuring the cocktail on their menus (especially around winter). Tom and Jerry's exact origins may be difficult to chart, but its future is anything but shrouded in obscurity.