There is arguably no cocktail authority more widely respected and revered than Jerry Thomas. The Professor, as he came to be known, quite literally wrote the book on bartending back in 1862—the first of its kind to be published in America. (Pretty impressive, considering the amazing array of spirits experts who’ve been putting pen to paper these days.) Lots of bartenders admire Thomas and his work. Not very many of them go so far as to show their love by inking it onto their body.
Aside from being the father of modern mixology, Jerry Thomas was also the inspiration for Valenzuela’s own career.
Jo-Jo Valenzuela does—specifically, on his left inner bicep. Valenzuela, who stays busy in his work as beverage director at D.C.’s Brine, part-time brand ambassador for Beefeater and Plymouth, and vice president for the D.C. Craft Bartender’s Guilt, got the tattoo around 2010 — when he started getting “really nerdy about craft cocktails,” he says. Valenzuela has been tending bar since 1997, but started taking his craft to a new level a decade later.
“About 2008 in DC, that’s when the craft cocktail scene started emerging,” Valenzuela says. “Suddenly, I found out that I’d been making the Old-Fashioned the wrong way for the first decade of my bartending career.” So, he started reading. “I started looking around for books, and I stumbled onto Jerry Thomas.” That discovery turned out to be serendipitous, because a couple years later, Valenzuela booked an appointment with Jayce Rio to seal the deal. (“I was born and raised in the Philippines, so my rule of thumb is that my artists have to be Filipino,” Valenzuela explains.)
For Valenzuela, Jerry Thomas isn’t just a figurehead of cocktail culture or a revered font of knowledge: he’s also a performer. When we asked him what he found most interesting in his Jerry Thomas research, his answer was definitive: the spectacle. “Definitely him being a great showman,” he says. In fact, that’s why Valenzuela chose to pay homage to the historic barkeep with an illustration of Thomas pouring his classic, flaming-hot Blue Blazer from mug to mug. The drink, arguably Jerry Thomas’s signature, was the first flaming cocktail popularized in the U.S. (born, according to Difford’s Guide, from one man’s demand that Thomas “fix me some hellfire that’ll shake me right down to my gizzard”). “Although not a very tasty drink, it’s definitely a show stopper,” says Valenzuela.