GSN Review: Winter 2011 Cocktail Guides

Loads of new cocktail books arrived via Reindeer-driven sleigh to the GSN review desk last month.  So, without further ado (ok, just one cocktail before I start. ….  there, that’s better), let’s see what the jolly old elf brought me.

First off, we have All the Gin Joints by Michael Turback.  The dedication is to David Embury (of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks fame) so you know this is already ahead of the pack in terms of content.  Containing a brief introduction about gin and bar tools, the real meat of the book is the collection of 101 recipes by a vast array of cocktailians from Keenan Ahlo to Dushan Zaric.  Most bartenders are from major cities on the East or West coast, but also some relative newcomers to the cocktail scene are represented including some from Phoenix, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; Clayton, MO and Ithaca, NY.  A lot of fun stuff here with some background info from the mixologists themselves.  The only downside to this affair is that there are zero pictures.  That being said, this is a fantastic tome for any gin lover and is highly recommended!  GSN Rating: A-

The American Cocktail by The Editors of Imbibe Magazine  Imbibe magazine is one of the few publications that I regularly read cover to cover when it arrives.  I was excited to see that they are branching out into books now.  The focus here is on original cocktails (although a few classics like the Seelbach, Ward Eight and Tom & Jerry are included) broken down into regions of the USA: South, Northeast, Midwest, West and West Coast.  The photographs are ultra high quality, as they are in the bi-monthly magazine and the recipes are simple enough that no obscure ingredients or tools are necessary.  Of particular note are the lists of online resources and U.S. distillers.  Truly a snapshot of American cocktail culture one-tenth of the way into the 21st century, this book is well worth adding to your book collection and using regularly.  GSN Rating: A

Bloody Mary by Jeffrey M. Pogash  This is a unique limited edition letterpress printed book,and more of a collectible broadside than something you’ll be refering to on a regular basis.  The focus here is on the history of the Bloody Mary, its creation and creators.  Did I say creators?  Without giving too much away, you will discover within its brief 34 pages who the most likely candidates are and the pros and cons supporting each.   At the end of the book is a recipe for the World’s Best Bloody Mary (according to Mr. Pogash, anyway) which makes a gallon of the stuff.  Nicely done and an interesting read.  Perhaps there will be more of these cocktail books printed in future.  I know I’d certainly be interested.  GSN Rating: B+

Cocktails with Bompas & Parr  I was most excited to see this volume, as the authors are quite well-known in Britain for their unusual cocktail events (aerosol G&T’s anyone?) and bizarre sensory approach to food and beverage.  Loaded with many equally bizarre cocktail photographs (eyeball floating in a Sazerac?), this book also includes a lot of great recipes.  Thankfully, the measurements are given in both British and US terminology.  Half of the book is given over to the usual classics and bar tool info, but the latter half is full of some truly great cocktail finds broken down into the following categories: Old & Obscure, Punches & Party Drinks, and Cures.  There’s also a section on bar snacks including what is undoubtedly a food item that won’t be making an appearance on many American bar menus: Quail Cottage.  All in all, a kind of hybrid coffee table book and at the same time a compendium of British mixological eccentricism.  GSN Rating: A-

Extra Dry, With a Twist by Shaun P. Daugherty  Not a new book, as it was published in 2008, but one that is new to me.  A manual on the qualities and mindset of bartending and not a cocktail guide, this book should be required reading for anyone entering the field.  Honestly, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by sitting down for a few hours and reading this book.  Forget bar school (a waste of money, IMHO) this book will teach you the real things you need to succeed.  I can sum them up here: basic behind the bar skills, customer service, and personal integrity. What makes this book more than just a dry manual, is the personal experience that the author shares.  He gives relevant examples in a conversational way that never speaks down to the reader.  I highly recommend this book as a refresher course, even if you’ve already been bartending for several years.  GSN Rating: A+

Food & Wine Cocktails 2011 – This series has been published going on seven years now and this latest edition gets a thumbs up from none other than Anthony Bourdain, host of “No Reservations”.  You can’t do much better than this book to find out the latest cocktail trends happening around the USA.  A compendium of the “who’s who” of up and comers in the American cocktail world, there are more original recipes in here than virtually any other cocktail guide I’ve seen.  Easily approachable for the novice, this also challenges the thinking of many established bartenders by including sections on cocktail/food pairing, mock-tails and seasonally based drinks.  Personally, I find the resource lists of bar tools, food recipes and top-rated bars across the country to be well worth the price of admission.  This series keeps upping the bar year after year.  Great stuff!  GSN Rating: A+

Home Bar Basics and Not-So-Basics by Dave Stolte – Gary Regan turned me on to this tiny and quite retro volume.  It’s designed to look like it’s been sitting on someone’s back bar shelf for a few decades with the pages slightly tanned along the edges.  What makes this book special are the illustrations by the author.  They are cute, sublime and memorable.  After reading this book, you’ll most likely picture each image when you make the represented drink.  Only 25 recipes are included and virtually all of them standards that you already know, but there are three listed at the very end which are pretty damn cool and could well become new standards: one from Alembic in San Francisco, one from Milk & Honey in NYC and one from The Varnish in L.A.  An extra bonus is a list of everything you’ll need to make all 25 drinks from hardware to garnishes.  GSN Rating: B+

Mr. Boston 75th Anniversary Edition – There’s something to be said for a book that has sold over 11,000,000 copies since it first came out in 1935.  There is a reason for those sales, as well.  The Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide has had the foresight to evolve with changing tastes, even to the point of no longer pushing their own brand within its pages.  As a series of books (you could go broke trying to collect every edition), the Mr. Boston guides offer a broad timeline of America’s cocktailian fads, with each succeeding edition weeding out the less than stellar drinks and replacing them with better tasting and more balanced beverages.  This new edition features contributions from dozens of USBG members and luminaries, making it very relevant to what’s actually being served in bars across the nation.  Now is a great time to rediscover what makes this book one you can proudly display on your back bar, and even proudly refer to it when a guest asks you for drink you may never have heard of before like the unusually named “Sunset at Gowanus”.  GSN Rating:  A

The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Chris Gall (Leather Edition) – Much has been said of this book in the few months since it was first published.  Comparisons to the esoterically beautiful Art Deco inspired “Savoy Cocktail Book” are particularly apt, as this volume has the same visual appeal due to the edgy and captivating woodcut style illustrations by Chris Gall.  Mr. Gall has even designed custom stamping and a gold embossed graphic for the leather bound version, which is a tongue in cheek PDT (Please Don’t Tell) coat-of-arms (hotdog and all).  As a piece of art, this book definitely gets my vote for one of the most beautiful books published this century.  That being said, what of the text and recipes compiled by PDT’s head mixologist Jim Meehan?

I really appreciate the sections on bar design, and the behind the scenes sections on the PDT experience, etiquette and how they stock their pantry.  It gives you a sense of what it takes to create a successful and easily worked bar in a relatively small space, whether entertaining in your own home or if you’re thinking of opening the world’s next great drinking establishment.  Also of note are the sections on seasonal mixology, online resources and cocktail library suggestions.  The bulk of the volume is a compilation of recipes.  Many classic, many easy to make; others nearly impossible unless you’ve got an unlimited bank account.  Of special note are the sources of the recipes and notes by their creators for many of the drinks.  This gives a sense of ongoing history and connectedness to it all in that we are given a unique glimpse into the mystery of working behind the stick.  Really a book which will prove invaluable to experienced bartenders as well as newbies. Even the hotdog recipes rock.  GSN Rating: A+

Vintage Cocktails: Retro Recipes for the Home Mixologist by Amanda Hallay – Catching some of the retro wave of “Mad Men”, this book is primarily aimed towards women who want authentic pre-1970’s cocktail recipes.  No Long Island Iced Tea, Cosmos or Apple-tinis here (thank god!).  Each generally classic recipe is paired with some thoughts by the author and a brief history of it’s origins.  Some unusual cocktails do make an appearance in here.  The Campari Shakerato and Snowball are listed alongside an Algonquin and a Gin Sling.  Overall tho, aside from the colorful and somewhat kitchsy illustrations, there isn’t much here that I’ve not seen printed elsewhere in a better format.  Regardless, it’s nice to find an author who recognizes that not all women want frou-frou drinks.  GSN Rating: B-

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One thought on “GSN Review: Winter 2011 Cocktail Guides

  1. Pingback: Imbibing Mr. Boston: Bloody Mary Cocktail | Good Spirits News

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