GSN Review: Summer 2012 Cocktail Guides

Time to make room for some new cocktail books on your back bar!  The following have recently caught your editor’s eye and I feel they stand out amongst the competition this Summer.

!Hola Tequila! by Colleen Graham (Sellers)  Despite the wealth of high quality tequilas available in the U.S. at this time in history, there still seems to be a distinct lack of education about what tequila actually is.  Ask the average person, and they immediately conjure one of two images from their personal experience: tequila shots or blended margaritas.  This is unfortunate, and this new book seeks to remedy that lack of knowledge by discussing tequila as a spirit that not only embodies the soul of the place where it is created, but also highlights the painstaking process which gives us this honorable spirit.

Ms. Graham’s book is generously illustrated with a number of full color pictures depicting everything from agave harvests, to distilleries, along with dozens of unique and well made cocktails.  But, what makes this book particularly worthwhile is the material on tequila production, the history of tequila, and a primer on the differences found in aged agave based spirits.  The 90 cocktails and shooters aren’t shabby either.  All sound delicious, and are supplemented by in depth background info on the inspiration behind their creation.  GSN Rating: B

Edible Cocktails by Natalie Bovis (Adams Media)  Natalie is known for making some of the most delectable drinks on the planet and the ones she’s included herein are no exception. This book looks slim, but don’t let it fool you, the recipes included will easily keep you busy for a year.  There are over 200 pages of amazingly creative and valuable cocktail-related information.  Not only will you find many original cocktails, but the real treat here are the recipes for making your own ingredients.  As more and more bartenders are looking to craft bespoke ingredients for their cocktails, this volume will prove a great launching point.  Detailed instructions on how to make your own syrups, jams, jellies, shrubs, infusions, liqueurs, bitters, mixers and garnishes provide a wealth of invaluable information for anyone looking to make the leap beyond pre-bottled ingredients.  This is down-to-earth stuff, not technical molecular mixology which will require you to buy expensive equipment.  In other words, anyone can do it.

Along with the text are plenty of gorgeous photos artfully illuminating the cocktails within.  An added bonus are the contributions by other world-class bartenders about everything from mindful bartending to “greening” up your bar. Rating: A

gaz Regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders 2012 (Mixellany)  Speaking of mindful bartending, the second follow-up volume by the inestimable gaz regan has arrived.  gaz is very canny in that not only do these volumes contain a virtual yearbook of expert bartenders, but each also contains a few chapters of gaz’s ongoing autobiography.  So, if you want the whole story of how Gary became gaz, you’re going to eventually have to buy the whole set. Since he’s only up to the mid-1970’s, I’m thinking maybe 2025 will complete the collection.

The real meat of these books are the bios of  notable world-class bartenders, many of whom you may have never heard of, and others who are household names.  (Well, in my household, anyway).  A great idea would be to bring this book with you when you’re visiting their home bars and have them sign their particular page.  Or, you could just bring it to Tales of the Cocktail or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and fill most of the book in one swell foop.

This year’s tome also contains a section on Mindful Bartending.  If you haven’t attended gaz’s seminar on this, the chapter will give you a good of idea of what goes on, minus gaz’s occasionally entertaining f-bombs.  Also, of note are short chapters on free-pouring, bar rails, and Japanese whisky, and reprinted blogs by a few of the leading lights in the cocktail world.  Rating: B+

Tales of the Cocktail From A to Z (Mixellany)  For those of us who’ve been to Tales, this book is full of memories.  For those of you who’ve not yet had the pleasure, this is as close as you will get until you finally get to the Big Easy during a sweltering late July.  This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Tales, and as such, makes an opportune time to reflect on what the festival really is.  Made up of three sections, this is almost a thesis on how to successfully begin and maintain a world-class celebration of drinking.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  This book is a celebration of drinking.

The first chapter details how it all came to be in 2003, along with lists of the various seminars presented over the years along with dozens of original cocktail recipes that were served at the time.  Chapter two is a short walking tour of cocktailian related locations in NOLA.  (I am pleased to find that I’ve visited 90% of them in my travels).  Lastly, and taking up the most room in the book is the A-Z mentioned in the title.  This is a rather odd list of everyone and everything that has been a part of Tales and New Orleans culture.  So, for instance, you will find King Cake and Eben Klemm listed next to each other.  It makes for a very eclectic and medieval styled compendium of spirituous trivia; and as such, more of an interesting novelty than a readable text.  Still, the book as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts and makes for an accurate snapshot of what has become the greatest annual party ever held!  Rating: B

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