“All I want for Christmas is you,” ten bartenders belted in their best Mariah Carey voices from the inside of an oversized barrel on wheels. Rewind six hours and we learn how we got here—silly and stumbling into Sportsman’s Club in search of an answer to the question: What is the connection between Bols Genever, the world’s oldest spirit brands, and one of the world’s oldest bartending figures, Jerry Thomas?
It started in The Office, the clandestine cocktail lounge home to some of the city’s most rare spirits and refined cocktails, where a frothy concoction greeted guests. Its ingredients: Bols Genever, egg white, tonka bean, parsnip syrup, lemon and cinnamon. Its inspiration: The flashy persona of Jerry Thomas himself, balanced with the earthiness of the Bols Genever. “It’s a rich and decadent cocktail that plays on Jerry Thomas’ persona, if I were to know him today,” says its creator Alexis Belton.
As for what awaited the twenty-some guests at the next stop on this five-bar crawl? The Bols Old Fashioned at Bar Deville is the boozy-counterpoint to the refreshing concoction offer up at The Office. Here, the bartenders made them how they thought Thomas liked them — dark, stirred and strong. A few slices of deep-dish pizza made sure that everyone made it back on the bus for the next stop: The Violet Hour.
What can be called Chicago’s OG cocktail bar went appropriately old-school with a classic Bols Genever punch. The Violet Hour’s take on holiday punch involves steeping sugar, lemon peels and lemon juice overnight before adding the Bols Genever, rum and cold water the next day. The result is a simple drink that brings out the spirit of the drink's citric notes. Another refresher awaited at Spilt Milk, where Matty Eggleston topped Bols Genever with coconut-infused rum, clove syrup and bitters with sparkling wine. The Stickpin Royale once again paid tribute to Thomas’ flamboyant side as well as the gem stickpin that he often brandished on his tie.
This is where Mariah comes in, as the remaining bartenders board the bus to the final stop, while floating on a Bols cloud and reminiscing about almost everyone’s favorite founding father of the cocktail movement. At Sportsman’s Club, Graham Heubach presents Standards & Practices (Bols Genever, sherry, cucumber, lemon and absinthe) in honor of the unspoken relationship every bartender has to Thomas—for his ability to redefine the classics while upholding the traditions of bartending—as well as Heubach's still-living mentor. “It’s a little trick I learned from the Jerry Thomas of my own life,” says Heubach. “Stephen Cole, who always muddled cucumbers in absinthe.”