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  • Andrea K. Marcinkus

Tom & Jerry: the "other" Wisconsin Cocktail

You have probably heard the Brandy Old Fashioned is the #1 cocktail in Wisconsin. Lesser known, but equally as tasty, is the winter weather warm milk-punch cocktail companion: The Tom & Jerry.

This spiced boozy dairy cocktail requires some preparation to make, but it is perfect for parties and gatherings. You can make the base "batter" and keep it in the fridge or freezer, then add alcohol and warm milk.

The origin of the cocktail is attributed to Pierce Egan, a British journalist, who specialized in writing about sports and pop-culture, in the 1820s. He wrote a book and adapted it to a play called Life in London, where the main character's names are Tom and Jerry. Egan invented the cocktail to help promote his creative works. Thomas Jerry, the father of modern mixology also claimed to have invented the drink. While a similar egg-based cocktail appeared in his 1862 book How to Mix Drinks (also called The Bon-Vivant's Companion), it was different enough that most cocktail historians believe Egan to be the true inventor.

The Tom & Jerry was very popular from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th. Its popularity lived longer in the the upper Midwest, most notably Wisconsin and Minnesota (you can still find the ready-made base for the drink in grocery stores in December - but trust me - its so much better from scratch). In the 1950s and 1960s many manufactures made punch bowl sets specifically for serving the warm drink. If you are lucky, you can still find them in antique or pre-owned stores today. They often have "Tom & Jerry" printed on the mugs in an old-fashioned font. Unfortunately, I have no such vintage sets, but that shouldn't stop anyone from enjoying this tasty winter beverage.

This year, we had a small New Year's Eve gathering at our house, and I made Tom & Jerry cocktails for the small crowd. None of the guests had one before (there are all from Illinois, and haven't been to a Wisconsin bar that served these). Everyone was pleased and loved them! I also used a Wisconsin distilled brandy, called Driftless Glen. The distillery is in the glacial driftless area along the Baraboo River in the Wisconsin town of Baraboo. Owners Brian and Reneé Bemis have received awards for their brandy (and other spirits). I hope you give them a try during these next few cold months.

The recipe below makes about 10-12 cocktails, depending on the size of your mug and how much milk you like to put in. Feel free to scale it up or down for the size of your gathering. If you have any of the batter leftover (unlikely, but it could happen) it will make an excellent French toast or bread pudding starter!

Tom & Jerry Cocktail

(makes 10-12 cocktails)

For the batter:

6 eggs, room temperature and separated

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

3 TBP unsalted butter

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the cocktail

(this makes 1 cocktail, or you can batch it and add these ingredients for every 1/4 cup of the batter)

1/4 cup tom & jerry batter

1 oz dark rum (I used Diplomatico for New Year's Eve, but Myer's Dark Rum is a good choice)

1 oz brandy or cognac (I used a craft brandy from Baraboo, Wisconsin called Driftless Glen, but any good bottle will work)

4-6 oz hot milk or a blend of hot milk & water (depends on how thick you would like to make it)

ground nutmeg or a star anise for garnish (optional)


1. To make the batter, add the cream of tartar to the separated egg whites (make sure there is no yolk or oil in the bowl, or your whites will not whip). Whip with the whisk attachment on your electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

2. In a separate bowl, add the egg yolks and sugar. Using a mixer, mix until the yolks are pale yellow and thick.

3. Into the yolk-sugar mixture, add the softened butter, and beat until incorporated.

4. Add the vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the yolk mixture.

5. Fold the yolk mixture into the egg whites until fully incorporated, but the mix is still light and airy.

6. To build the drinks, add about 1/4 cup of the batter into the bottom of a heat-proof mug. Add the brandy and rum. Finish with 4-6 oz of milk or milk/water.

7. Garnish with freshly ground nutmeg and/or a star anise.

Enjoy with your guests! Cheers!

I'd love to hear about your memories about drinking these warming cocktails or share your experience with this recipe!

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