GSN Review: Summer 2014 Bartender Guides

indexAnother season, another shelves’ worth of books have arrived at the GSN offices.  Here’s a look at what we’ve been reading this summer.

Home Bar Basics and Not-So-Basics 2nd Edition by Dave Stolte (Wexler of California)  If you’re experiencing a sense of deja vu, you’re right.  I reviewed this book when it originally came out back in 2011.  However, this is the expanded and revised 2nd edition.  Is it worth the upgrade? I’ll leave that up to you, but there are some differences worth noting.  The book now has a spine covering the wire ringed binding, the inside cover has units of volume and info on the number of drinks you can safely consume per hour.  The introduction has been re-written to include a treatise on hospitality, and many of the sections have been overhauled and updated.  But, the most interesting aspect comes from several alternate illustrations and the addition of five new “not-so-basic” drinks.  So, yeah, it’s worth the price.  By the way, Dave’s book was a finalist for Best New Cocktail Book at the 6th Annual Spirited Awards in New Orleans this year.  GSN Rating: A-

indexSake Confidential by John Gauntner (Stone Bridge Press)  I really enjoy sipping good sake every so often, but many times I am left baffled by the relative lack of information on the bottle.  So, what should I look for and why?  This book seeks to answer 90% of the questions you may have about sake, and it does so in a very straightforward conversational style.  Each chapter is only a few pages long, but gives a better understanding of what styles are available, what makes a high quality sake versus one you should avoid, and the age-old question of whether to drink it hot or cold (the answer may surprise you).  In just a few minutes of reading this book I learned some valuable information which will help me make better informed decisions when picking up a bottle of sake at the liquor store.  GSN Rating: B+

indexThe Old-Fashioned by Robert Simonson and Daniel Krieger (Ten Speed Press)  Take one part David Wondrich and one part 21st century nouveau cocktail guide, gently stir and you have this entertaining volume.  For many cocktail lovers, the Old-Fashioned is the one drink by which a bartender (and often the bar itself) is judged.  There is a reason why this drink has never been forgotten, but rather has been rediscovered as a keystone in the cocktailian holy trinity of Manhattan, Martini and Old-Fashioned.  The first half of this colorful and artistic ode is dedicated to the story of how this simple drink gained popularity over 150 years and finally became an icon for the “Mad Men” age.  The latter half of the book is filled with original recipes crafted by a who’s who of bartenders who have been riffing on the drink for the last 15 years or so.  Tons of fun and educational to boot!  GSN Rating: A-

indexWhiskey The Manual by Dave Broom (Octopus Books)  If you’re thinking this is yet another book on the history of whiskey production, you’d only be partly right.  Certainly there is the usual dissemination on different styles (Irish, Scotch, Canadian, American, Asian) and the processes of distillation and aging, but that only takes up a small portion of this book.  Instead, well over 100 pages are given to dissecting brands of whiskies based on their character, flavor profile and most interestingly, mixability.  Generally, whiskey drinkers are in three camps: straight or with a bit of water or ice; mixed into a cocktail ala a Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned; and the “Jack and Coke” lover.  Author Broom gives recommendations on drinking each brand with either coconut water, cola, ginger ale, green tea or soda water.  Lastly, there are a few classic whiskey cocktail recipes along with a smattering of the sort that mixologists with a large backbar and access to obscure ingredients will love.  GSN Rating: B

indexRestaurant & Bar Design (Taschen)  As with all Taschen books, this is a lovely coffee-table style tome.  Filled with over 400 pages of full color photographs, this will definitely get your creative juices flowing when thinking about bar design.  Broken into five sections including The Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East, each section focuses on visually engaging and stylistically impressive venues.  None of the locales I’ve ever been to are represented, as the focus is on architectural design rather than the cocktail or food menu.  But, just looking at the empty bar stools makes me thirsty.  In the end, this book makes you realize that drinking is not just about enjoying alcohol and sustenance; but as with a cocktail, garnish and presentation are equally important as the taste.  GSN Rating: B+

indexFood & Wine Cocktails 2014 (Food & Wine)  For their 10th anniversary (has it been ten years already?) the staff at Food & Wine decided to go with a retrospective of 150 previously published cocktails that will always be classics, or should be.  As in all the earlier volumes, there are sections on spirits, barware, bar snacks, and a list of the current best bars in the U.S.  Perhaps the most interesting aspects of this edition, are the sections on bar and cocktail trends that have taken place over the last decade.  It makes you realize how far the cocktail industry has truly come.  I have to take a few points off for repetition, but if you just want a “best of” collection then this anniversary edition is for you.  GSN Rating: B+

indexAlchemy in a Glass: The Essential Guide to Handcrafted Cocktails by Greg Seider (Rizzoli)  A true cocktail guide with lots of lovely photographs of seductive libations, this book is a testament to the tenacity and vision of one of NYC’s great bartenders.  I would say “Mixologist”, but the author would probably take umbrage with that title.  In any case, Greg writes his cocktailian autobiography here through recipes which have permeated his consciousness over the years, and inspired altogether new creations.  His modus operandi is much the same as mine.  Start with a classic recipe, and then use it as the foundation to make something entirely new.  Many of his original recipes call for bespoke syrups, infusions and bitters, but he generously shares all the necessary information on how to recreate them at home.  The book is rounded out with a list of recommended spirits and a bit on mixing technique.  If nothing else, this book is a snapshot of how cocktails can rise above simply being a means of delivering alcohol to a thirsty customer.  GSN Rating: A-

indexMagic in a Shaker: A Year of Spirited Libations by Marvin Allen (Pelican Publishing)  I first met Marvin back in 2010 while my wife and I were visiting New Orleans and checking out the dozens of iconic bars in the French Quarter.  He was working on a slow afternoon behind the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, and took the time to chat us up.  We learned a lot about the history of the bar as well as the locals who frequent it.  On subsequent visits over the years, he’s always been one of the most outgoing and professional bartenders I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  So, it’s no surprise that he decided to compile a book of favored recipes.  The book is broken into chapters devoted to the months of the year and appropriate cocktails to enjoy in each.  Some insight or background is offered for most of the recipes, but there are very few photographs, and those that are included are in black & white. What makes this book especially noteworthy is the sense of history and locale.  Most of the drinks date prior to 1933 and many are local to New Orleans.   The book is very approachable and offers everyone a chance to taste the kind of drinks that Marvin would serve you as you lazily drank your way around the hotel’s rotating circular bar.  GSN Rating: B-

indexThe 12 Bottle Bar: A Dozen Bottles. Hundreds of Cocktails. A New Way to Drink. by David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson (Workman Publishing Company) A logical and persuasive argument that you need only a dozen bottles behind the bar to make enough cocktails to last you a lifetime.  Those twelve bottles may not be what you would expect however.  For instance, of all the styles of whiskey available, only rye is mentioned.  As well, tequila is missing entirely, but genever has a whole chapter.  What gives?  Well, without giving the whole premise away, the basic idea is to slowly build your bar with stock that will allow you to make drinks as they developed over the past few centuries.  Limited to only seven spirits, one liqueur, two vermouths and two styles of bitters, you will indeed have a collection that in many ways will exceed most typical bars around the country.  Lest you think this is all a rehash of other cocktail guides, there are plenty of new cocktails and recipes for ingredients to keep you busy for years.  There is a surprising amount of practical information here, despite the limitation on ingredients.  GSN Rating: A-

indexTiki Pop by Sven A. Kirsten (Taschen)  Whatever your feelings about tiki or “faux tropical” drinks, you have to admit that they carried more weight culturally than many other cocktail trends.  The exotic was everywhere in the late 1940’s through the 1960’s with popular Polynesian restaurants like Trader Vic’s, Don the Beachcomber’s and the Mai Kai and songs by Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny being played on top 40 radio. The very fact that there is an ongoing recognition and revival of tiki culture and beverages in 2014 bears testament to the appeal and longevity of drinks served in grotesque mugs with custom swizzle sticks.  Tiki Pop is Sven Kirsten’s latest testament to the endurance of what was originally a post WWII fad designed to appeal to ex-servicemen who had served in tropical climes.  This gigantic (read: heavy) coffee table book is a love letter to all things tiki.  If you are a fan of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s books, consider this the next logical step in your tropical adventure.  No cocktail recipes, but plenty of vintage photos of bars, mugs, glassware, swizzles and cocktail menus.  GSN Rating: A

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