GSN Review: Autumn 2014 Bartender Guides

41s44RvQ3lL._AA160_Time once again for our seasonal review of books relating to cocktails, bartending and all thing spirituous! 

The World Atlas of Whiskey 2nd Edition by Dave Broom (Mitchell Beazley)  Ask most people what kinds of whiskies there are, and they list a handful.  Irish, Scotch, Rye (incorrectly called Canadian whiskey), and Bourbon.  That’s like saying there are less than a half dozen kinds of wine.  What author Dave Broom seeks to do with his revised version of the World Atlas of Whiskey is to give a broad and yet detailed view of just how many styles and flavors of whiskies there actually are.  For example, new distilleries have opened up in the Far East that include spirits that consistently win gold medals in competition with European brands that have been around for centuries.  Designed as an oversized coffee table book, every page is beautifully appointed with full color photographs of distilleries, bottle labels and maps.  I can guarantee that if you read this book cover to cover, you will gain a better of understanding that the flavors and blends of whiskey are as broad a category as are the worlds of beer and wine.  The only things lacking are samples of whiskey to try while you read.  GSN Rating: A

41Z8ykNXabL._AA160_GQ Drinks by Paul Henderson (Mitchell Beazley)  Truly a cocktail book to make you jealous of British cocktail lovers, or go crazy trying to track down hard to find ingredients in the States; this is nonetheless a beautiful book for the advanced bartender.  Using a format similar to the Annual Food & Wine cocktail guides, sections are broken into spirit type with recipes chosen by some of England’s classiest bartenders including Simone Caporale, Ryan Chetiyawardana, Agostino Perrone and Milos Popovic just to name a few.  Each drink is given a full-page, artfully photographed and with background notes.  An introduction by the renowned Salvatore Calabrese, as well as a short section on supplies, techniques and sources round out this volume.  To get a picture of what’s happening in swinging London in the 21st century, you need look no further than GQ DrinksGSN Rating: B

51UN7ZkAfIL._AA160_The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler (Chronicle Books)  As a mixologist, I first approached making cocktails from a purely historical interest.  I wanted to literally make cocktails chronologically, starting with the earliest examples from the mid-1800’s and work my way forward.  Once I had a handle on that, I decided expand my skills with cooking from scratch.  What was particularly eye opening for me was the realization that many of the techniques I’d learned making cocktails, also translated into cooking, and visa-versa.  So, it was that upon reading Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s treatise on cocktail techniques, I realized that it is in a very real sense, a cookbook.  Everything is covered here in very easy to understand and follow directions.  The usual shaking, stirring and straining info is obviously here, but Morgenthaler also provides time-tested recipes for making your own syrups, tinctures, sodas, purees, bitters and more.  You may want to invest in some quality bottles if you really get serious, but it’s also just plain fun to realize that cocktails can be more than the sum of store-bought ingredients.  Cocktails ultimately can be infused with a part of yourself.  GSN Rating: A+

bok_thomasjerd_0000_01e_web1How to Mix Drinks: The Bar Tenders Guide by Jerry Thomas (Cocktail Kingdom)  If this book looks or sounds familiar, it’s because its been around for over 150 years.  Hell, it even looks like an antique, as the publisher has gone through the extra expense to have it printed as an almost exact replica of the 1862 edition with gold ink along with deeply textured stamping of leaves on the covers and spine.  Sure, you can find loads of paperback copies of this book for sale on Amazon.com, but only this volume has the added benefit of recently uncovered insights by Prof. David Wondrich.  Having written the definitive biography of author Jerry Thomas several years ago (“Imbibe!”), Wondrich is well qualified to share what information he’s discovered since that volume was published.  New key facts about Thomas give additional insight into his life, his methodology and why his book was such a success when it was first published.  That alone should motivate you to buy this book, but if you’re still unconvinced to own perhaps yet your third of fourth copy of “How to Mix Drinks”, do it for the sheer joy of holding a book that feels so close to that first edition and you will probably never be able to afford.  GSN Rating: A

bok_bakercharlesh_0000_01e_web1The South American Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker Jr. (Cocktail Kingdom)  You don’t need to be from South America to appreciate the writing style and wry observations of this classic volume.  Expertly reprinted to match the original publication in every detail (including slipcase!), this is a real treat to read.  Charles H. Baker Jr. was a renaissance man in every sense of the word.  He hung out with Hemingway, literally traveled the world during the early era of flight, wrote a gothic southern novel, and even published his own magazine for a time.  But, in truth, he was the prototype of our current food & drink bloggers, collecting hundreds of recipes from around the globe and writing them down in prose.  It is this loose style of details on ratios, ingredients and brands that makes it frustrating to mixologists.  But, at the same time, it perfectly describes the customer’s point of view from the other side of the bar.  They may not know what you’re doing when you make a drink, but they know what makes for a great presentation and an interesting evening out.  Bolstered by two insightful articles by St. John Frizell (of NYC bar Fort Defiance), this is yet another wonderful addition to the ever-growing essential cocktail guide library published by Cocktail Kingdom.  GSN Rating: A

51SMGcFJFEL._AA160_Celebrity Cocktails by Brian van Flandern (Assouline)  This is the author’s third coffee table book published by Assouline.  Previous volumes have focused on vintage drinks and modern craft libations.  This one, pays tribute to Hollywood’s love affair with all things alcoholic.  Some of  the actor/cocktail associations are rather tenuous (Laurence Olivier & Snapdragon?), but others readily remind us of great films that have key drinking scenes and characters.  Many of the recipes are overly familiar drinks, but there are several originals as well as modern tributes to the great men and women of the silver screen.  Photographs by Harald Gottschalk are beautifully evocative and the many studio shots of famous actors imbibing are a treat.  GSN Rating: B-

41JRiTnrD7L._AA160_Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald & Alex Day (Ten Speed Press)  Just consider this: a bar opens in 2006, and eight years later they’ve created over 500 original cocktails.  Then contemplate that every time the season changes, this selfsame bar completely re-does their drinks menu.  Sound insane?  Yes, and at the same time, no.  It is one aspect of what has made NYC’s Death & Co. win accolades the world over.  The chapters in here are a textbook example of what to do right when running a bar.  Always pushing yourself into new creative vistas, yet at the same time avoiding disenfranchising your regular clientele.  In fact, several pages are devoted to the regulars who frequent the bar and have inspired the drinks.  Out of the hundreds of cocktail guides out there, this one more than any other makes you feel like you are right there working with the bartenders from opening to last call.  The cocktails are tremendous, the insights into what makes a successful bar even more so.  This book gets my vote for one of the top 10 cocktail books published in 2014.  GSN Rating: A++

51iDDyHR6NL._AA160_A Modern Guide to Sherry by Talia Baiocchi (Ten Speed Press)  The bartending world is always looking for something new to play with in cocktails.  Thanks to the ongoing efforts of Steve Olson of the outstanding B.A.R. and BarSmarts program, sherry is finally getting its due.  Ms. Baiocchi’s treatise on this oft misunderstood wine is a welcome addition to any serious bartenders library.  Spend a few hours reading the history behind one of Spain’s high points in winemaking, and you too will gain an understanding that sherry can be one of the most powerful tools in your cocktail arsenal.  If all you know about sherry is Harvey’s Bristol Cream, then this will be an eye-opener.  I appreciated the background on the many Bodegas where sherry is blended and aged.  Unlike the competitive wine making world, sherry crafters seem like a close family who support each other and know that they are keeping sherry alive and well in a world which until recently had forgotten the magic.  GSN Rating: A

41nNs068NJL._AA160_Proof by Adam Rogers (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt)  Open up to the table of contents, and you get a perfectly succinct synopsis of how the alcohol in your bar is made from start to finish.  Yeast, sugar, fermentation, distillation and aging.  The last three chapters address the human effect.  Smell and taste, body and brain, and hangover.  I think that covers it all.  This book is for those who seek to understand why we drink what we drink and the science behind how it all comes together.  Nary a single cocktail recipe is to be found here, but a greater understanding of what it is that billions of people have enjoyed over the millennia.  If nothing else, a working bartender should be required to read this book just to gain an understanding of what the substance they dispense exactly is and does.  If you need proof that alcohol is just a bit magical, then you need to read ProofGSN Rating: A-

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