GSN Review: Autumn 2012 Cocktail Guides

Food & Wine Cocktails 2012 by Dana Cowin & Jim Meehan (Food & Wine Books)  Another in the excellent series of annuals published by Food & Wine Magazine.  If you want to get an accurate snapshot of what’s happening in top bars around the U.S., this is the one volume to get.  This year, they’ve revamped the content to an alphabetical list of the classic cocktails that includes several new variations on each by about fifty top mixologists.  Other sections include recipes for party food, and a recommended list of the top 100 American bars.  GSN Rating: A

Cuban Cocktails by Anastasia Miller & Jared Brown (Mixellany)  More than just a follow-up to Anastasia & Jared’s previous volume Cuba: The Legend of Rum, this new book details the development of important Cuban cocktails including the Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, Mojito and Pina Colada.  As with all of their books, there is a lot of research and history here.  But what makes it invaluable are the myriad variations of recipes in chronological order culled from many rare and obscure sources.  As an example there are almost 50 different versions of the Daiquiri from the last 275 years to play around with.  Kudos to the authors for bringing an oft neglected, but quite important segment of cocktailian development to light.  GSN Rating: A-

gaz regan’s 101 Best New Cocktails 2012 (Mixellany)  Literally gaz’s hand-picked choices of cocktails as submitted to him for consideration.  No particular theme or style is represented, but this is rather a compendium of creations from bartenders around the globe.  Each cocktail has a short piece on its creation by the mixologist, along with the recipe and a b&w photo of it.  This makes for a fun sojourn into new realms, which will require you to make more than a few trips to the store to track down obscure spirits and ingredients to make your own infusions and garnishes.  GSN Rating: B

Destination: Cocktails by James Teitelbaum (Santa Monica Press)  If there were one book published this year that made me jealous, it would have to be this one.  James has somehow managed to take the vision and style of travel guides like those published by Fodor’s and Frommer’s and apply it to bar hopping.  And what a long strange trip it is.  Starting with the premise that a bar that has great cocktails is worthy of a visit, he globe hops from New York (arguably the primordial bastion of the great American libation) all the way to far-flung Australia with many stops in between.  Along the way, a picture is painted of how bar-craft and bars themselves have developed over the past few centuries.  Lots of b&w photos grace the pages, along with several of the author’s own cocktail recipes, making this a hefty 400+ page tome.  If you find yourself in one of the over forty major cities, you WILL want to have this book with you to plan your visit.  My only question is, with most of these cocktails ranging in price from $10-20 each, who will foot the bill if I choose to follow his trail.  GSN Rating: A

Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion by Hubert Germain-Robin (White Mule Press)  Not a cocktail book by any means, this is a brief, yet fairly comprehensive look at how to distill grape brandies.  Of particular interest to cocktailians is the section on tasting the finished product.  Understanding what to look for in a spirit, and how to do it, is the next big leap forward in mixology after learning the basics of shaking and stirring.  A very nice selection of full-color period advertisements and alembic still blueprints are included, making this less of a dry treatise and more of an artistic statement on the craft.  The first in a planned series of books, this is a fine start to a promising collection.  GSN Rating: B+

Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press)  With the endless cocktail books that seem to come out on a weekly basis, it is surprising that there aren’t more volumes on one of the essentials of pre-prohibition drinks.  “Bitters” delivers, and then some.  An up-to-the-minute look at the dozens of new craft bitters on the market, along with a dozen recipes for making your own forms the foundation of this work.  As if this weren’t enough, there is a section on setting up your bar, a lengthy list of classic and new-wave bittered cocktails with gorgeous mouth-watering color photos of the drinks and an intriguing collection of food recipes that call for bitters.  I honestly, cannot recommend this book highly enough, as it is beautifully produced, well written and comprehensive in scope.  GSN Rating: A+

Slushed! by Jessie Cross (Adams Media)  I’ve often thought that frozen alcoholic desserts are an area just begging for further exploration.  “Slushed!” fills the bill handily.  Everything from popsicles, ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, mousse, granitas, sorbets, sherbets, and even frozen cakes and ice-cream sandwiches are here with easy to follow directions.  A lot of these will be perfect for the finishing touch to a spirited dinner party, or a lively alternative to the usual over-sweet freezer treats that leave you wishing you hadn’t eaten afterwards.  There are a smattering of color photos, but the real treats are the creative and luscious recipes.  GSN Rating: B+

Never Cook Sober Cookbook by Stacy Laabs & Sherri Field (Adams Media)  As if you needed an excuse to drink from morning until night, here is your justification.  Not a book about drinking while cooking (not recommended), but a book about using spirits and liqueurs in your food; this book starts with a hearty breakfast of everything from tequila eggs to Frangelico French toast, then moves on to a filling lunch of vodka turkey wraps, wine pasta and beer hot dogs, and finally tucking in to a dinner of rum fajitas, gin shrimp and brandy steaks.  If you still have room after all of that, there’s a collection of boozy desserts to cap off the meal.  An interesting drink/food pairing also accompanies each recipe.  Unfortunately, there are no pictures, but if you have a vivid imagination, you can certainly imagine the flavors by reading the recipes out loud.  GSN Rating: B

GSN Review: Winter 2009 Cocktail Guides

Lots of great cocktail, spirits & mixology books came out this last year.  Here are my top recommendations.
The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits: An Enthusiasts Guide to the Artisan Distilling of Potent Potables by Bill Owens & Alan Dikty
Not only a beautiful book, but an extremely informative one for anyone interested in the history and current methods of distillation.  (And who among us, isn’t?)
the bartender’s GIN compendium by Gaz Regan
Think you know everything there is to know about this sublime spirit?  Think again.  Gary Regan has filled this tome with virtually every minutiae about gin and then some.  Plus, a handy guide on difficult to find gins.
Diffordsguide Cocktails 8 (Diffords Guide) by Simon Difford
You may love or hate Simon Difford, but you have to agree that if nothing else, he is thorough in his cocktail recipe collections.  It’s no wonder he’s on volume 8.  Each year he adds several hundred new recipes from around the globe.
The Essential Bartender’s Guide by Robert Hess
This is really quite essential.  Written for a beginner, but full of recipes for the advanced mixologist as well.  A handy reference guide that I pull out ALL OF THE TIME.  Nice one, Robert!
The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks by Dale Degroff
So, what’s the difference between this book and the previous volume?  This is the Cadillac of cocktail books.  Not only is it full of beautiful photographs, but the writing is engaging.  Dale manages to make you feel like you’re sharing a drink with him.  Simply an amazing achievement.
Food & Wine 2009 Cocktail Guide by Food & Wine Magazine
You might think this slim volume is lacking depth, but you’d be wrong.  The guide holds more information than you think about glassware, the latest cocktail trends, and the up and coming bars around the US.  Well worth the few bucks it costs.
The Mixellany Guide to Gin by Geraldine Coates
What?!?  Another guide to gin?  Isn’t one enough?  Unfortunately for your wallet, the answer is no.  Geraldine’s book makes a perfect match to Gaz Regan’s prosaic levity by remaining fairly serious, but not in an academic way.
Mixologist: The Journal of the European Cocktail, Volume 3 by Jared Brown & Anastasia Miller
I continue to be amazed at the prolific output by Jared & Anastasia.  Their research continually enlightens and delights.  This volume studies the history of cocktails and mixology in Europe.  Great stuff!
Preggatinis: Mixology for the Mom-to-be by Natalie Bovis-Nelsen
This book is worth it’s weight in gold for anyone who has tended bar at a party where some guests don’t want alcohol, but also don’t want a soda.  Natalie has compiled a fantastic selection of easy to make non-alcoholic cocktails that taste amazing.  Not only for expectant mothers.Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink by Jared Brown & Anastasia Miller
If there was a worthy successor to David Wondrich’s “Imbibe!”, this would be it.  The entire history of fermented beverages around the world.  I think this would make a great BBC series, guys!

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie
100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them
by Ted Haigh
Technically, this book was published five years ago and isn’t a new title.  However, the upgrade really makes it invaluable.  More cocktails, more photos of rare spirits and ephemera, more history and more resources in the back.  The only disappointment, if it could be called one, is that you will catch Ted’s bug to track down the unusual ingredients most of these drinks call for.

Also, you can’t go wrong with any of the reprints of rare cocktail books published by Mud Puddle Books or the guides put out by Mixellany Ltd. Both of these publishers are doing a huge service to the cocktail community by reprinting long out of print (and out of price range) copies of seminal cocktail guides.  If you want to understand the history of what you do behind the stick, grab these books and prepare to be enlightened.