GSN Interview: Jim Meehan Shares Thoughts About His Bar Manual

Jim Meehan is a bartenders’ bartender. As a former General Manager at PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in NYC, and author of The PDT Cocktail Book, those alone would qualify him a star on the Bartender Walk of Fame. He recently opened two new bars in Chicago and Hong Kong, is the long-time brand ambassador for Banks Rum, and has received recognition from the James Beard Foundation and the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.

Jim kindly took time to answer a few questions we had after reading his latest volume Meehan’s Bartender Manual.

GSN: Like a lot of us who came into the bartending game in the 21st century, you discovered the classic bar and cocktail guides by Jerry Thomas, Harry Johnson, Harry Craddock, etc… after you’d already been bartending for a while.  How did you approach these venerable recipes and the somewhat outdated service advice?

JM: Discovering these books made me feel part of a long, noble tradition I wasn’t familiar with.  While the world has changed, the fundamentals of the job- serving people food and drink in an engaging environment- has not.  Mixed drinks follow a fashion-like cycle with the recipes reflecting the mood and style of the time, so I don’t worry about them becoming “outdated”, as what was old will be new again in the future.

GSN: Which cocktail & bar guide books do you feel best capture a snapshot of the four ages of cocktail history from the golden age of the 1800’s up to the pre-prohibition era; from the silver age during the emigration of American bartenders to Europe during the 1920’s-30’s; to modern age post-WWII tiki and Mad Men era drinks; to the craft revival age where many of the drinks utilize house-made ingredients?

JM: This is more of a (David) Wondrich question, but if you put me on the spot, I’d recommend The Hoffman House Bartender’s Guide by Charles Mahoney, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks by Frank Meier, David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks or Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide if you want tiki too, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book.

GSN: Much of the guests’ experience is not about the drink itself, but rather the overall visual experience of the bar and the personality of the bartender.  How do you see overall bar design aesthetic working with a team of bartenders who all have differing personalities and levels of commitment to the craft?

JM: Audrey Saunders once described the bar as a mouse trap to me and the staff as the cheese.  Expanding upon this analogy, if you want to attract a diverse clientele, you need a variety of “bait” to entice them.  Accordingly, I encourage operators to recruit and hire a diverse staff, whose personalities and interests will be reflected in the clientele.  As for differing levels of commitment, everyone needs to understand the vision for the business, but they don’t all need to go about achieving the bar’s goals the same way.  There are many ways to do things, so as long as you’re getting results, why not promote multiple pathways?

GSN: On that note, is there ever a place for a “star-tender” on a bar team, or do you think that they might be better suited to owning a venue, or transitioning into a brand rep?

Jacob Briars

JM: I recall a Tales of the Cocktail seminar Jacob Briars gave where he suggested great bars need two stars: not just one.  His duos included Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy at Attaboy, Simone Caporale and Alex Kratena formerly of Artesian and others.  You’re only as good as your staff, so I agree with Jacob on this.  As long as the team understands the vision for the business and is mindful of each other’s needs, there’s room for “star-tenders” with other responsibilities to play a supporting role.

GSN: What brands of bar tools do you find yourself reaching for these days? There are so many different jiggers, shakers, bar spoons, and mixing glasses available these days, it makes sense to buy the best if you can.

JM: Cocktail Kingdom remains my favorite place for one stop shopping, but I’ve got a wandering eye when it comes to bar tools.   I’m particularly fond of Japanese tools from Soukichi and Bar Times in Tokyo and Umami Mart in Oakland.  Erik Lorincz (Birdy) and Charles Joly (Crafthouse by Fortessa) each have bar tool lines, which is super cool.

GSN: What are your thoughts about the relatively new idea of cocktail flights and food pairings? Obviously, it can be a huge hassle when you’re in the weeds, but in a slower atmosphere, do you feel that these are of value to either the bartender or the guest?

JM: Absolutely.  Pairings and flights- which I’ve been doing ever since I started working in restaurants in New York in 2002- reinforce the cocktail’s rightful place within the culinary arts.  I’m doing a pairing dinner in Boulder, CO at Frasca on March 26th.  If a guest asks for one or the chef is motivated to feature cocktails as part of their tasting menu, it provides a great opportunity for the bartender to showcase their creativity.

GSN: How do you feel about the distilling industry explosion here in the U.S.? Some would say that having too many choices leaves the consumer overwhelmed and asking for a brand or cocktail that they are already quite familiar with as opposed to experimenting with something new.

JM: The cream will rise to the top.  It’s a bit overwhelming right now, as you want to support local craft distilling, but the quality isn’t there yet for most producers.  It takes time, and most small business owners don’t have the capital to compete with big brands.

GSN: For the bartender who works either for a venue where the owner will only carry a limited number of products, or if they work in a highly regulated state where distribution or availability is limited, how do you suggest they manage to create an interesting cocktail program?

Prairie School

JM: Beauty- or “interesting” for this question- is in the eye of the beholder.  We stock a limited selection of products at Prairie School and PDT because focus matters to me.  Whether your back bar and spirits selection is big or small, it should be curated and relate to the chef’s cuisine or the bar’s cocktail focus.

GSN: Have you ever found that some cocktails you’ve created and thought were sure-fire winners, just didn’t resonate with the guests despite being appealingly described on a menu? If so, what were they? Also, please share a few of your favorite cocktail recipes that you’ve created, and a few that others have made and are on your short list.’

JM: As I said above, taste is subjective; so, in some ways, my opinion of my bar’s cocktails is somewhat irrelevant.  I love many of my recipes like family, but at the end of the day, the guests decide what stays on the menu and what goes.  I have a little over thirty favorites in my new book, and if I had to pick, I’d highlight the Mezcal Mule, East India Negroni, Old Friend and Newark as favorites.

Photograph: Nick Caruana

Old Friend

Old Friend
1.5 oz. Beefeater Gin
.75 oz. grapefruit juice
.5 oz. Campari
.25 oz. St. Germain
Shake with ice, then fine strain into a chilled coupe
Garnish with a lemon twist

 

East India Negroni

East India Negroni
2 oz. Banks 5-Island Rum
.75 oz. Lustau East India Solera Sherry
.75 oz. Campari
Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with one large ice cube
Garnish with an orange twist

 

 

 

Mezcal Mule
1.5 oz. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
1 oz. ginger wort
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Boiron Passion Fruit Purée
.5 oz. agave syrup
4 cucumber slices (reserve 1 for garnish)
Muddle the cucumber slices and agave syrup, then add the remaining ingredients
Shake with ice, then fine strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with ice
Garnish with a piece of candied ginger picked to a slice of cucumber and a pinch of ground chili

Photograph by Ian LauerNewark
2 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1 oz. Vya Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz. Fernet-Branca
.25 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled coupe
No garnish

 

GSN: Service is key in our industry. Do you think this is a skill that is inherent in a new employee, or is it generally a learned skill?  What is the best approach that you’ve found in training new staff?

JM: I look for character- most of which is determined by a candidate’s upbringing- when I’m hiring.  I can’t teach someone to care about themselves, others or their job: ideally, their parents already instilled that.  On the other hand, the x’s and o’s of service are totally trainable and I’m happy to teach them because our service style is what distinguishes us from other bars.

There’s no one size fits all approach to training in my book.  You do your best.  There’s never enough time before you open and once you’re open, your bar becomes a work in progress constantly evolving based on the team and the guests’ interests.  Instead of rounding everyone up like it’s a school, I eke out one-on-one time: typically, after a mistake has occurred and there’s a teachable moment to take advantage of.

Audrey Saunders

GSN: Any mentors that you’ve had you’d like to give a shout out to? What was their advice that has had a lasting effect on your career?

JM: There are over fifty portraits of friends, colleagues and mentors in my new book with quotes that lend insight into their expertise and impact upon my career.  Among all of them, Audrey Saunders stands out as my primary mentor, who once told me “Don’t believe the hype.”  It’s something that I took to heart and hold close to the vest when things seem to be going well.  You’ve got to put work in every day and never take your success for granted.

GSN: Last question: Burnout and alcohol abuse abound in an industry founded on a controlled substance.  How have you personally been able to keep a level head over the years and not get sucked in to the dark side of bartending?

JM: I grew up around alcoholism in my family and have always been wary of over indulging.  That ad on TV: “This is your brain.  This is your brain on drugs.” had an impact on me!  I don’t drink when I’m tending bar and forbid my staff from it until the shift is over.  After our first child- and fifteen years of drinking with bartenders- I’ve pulled way back in the last few years.  My hangovers last all day and it’s just not worth it anymore.  I fell head over heels for this industry because I love serving others: not myself.  I love to drink, but I value my health and happiness above it.

GSN: Thanks Jim, and cheers!

You can order a copy of Meehan’s Bartender Manual from Cocktail Kingdom

GSN Presents: The 2017 Advent Gift Guide – Day 14

Punch is the highlight for today’s Advent Gift suggestion; and who knows more about punch than spirits historian and author David Wondrich? Produced with industry barware purveyors Cocktail Kingdom this is a gorgeous 18th century-styled triumverate. The centerpiece, a white stoneware bowl, is adorned with a quote from Cicero, “Edamus bibamus gaudeamus. Post mortem nulla voluptas,”, or for those of you who didn’t take Latin in school “Let us eat, drink, enjoy life, after death there is no pleasure.” It’s perfectly complemented by the Captain Morris ladle and eight Georgian-era stemmed glasses.

The entire set is available for only $129.99, a savings of $55 off the separate items.

Get yours for the holiday season and years to come at Cocktail Kingdom

 

GSN Presents: The 2017 Advent Gift Guide – Day 3

Day three of GSN’s holiday gift guide features a new bar knife. Every bartender can use one of these!
Ikura Knife
A collaboration between New York barware superstore Cocktail Kingdom and award-winning Los Angeles bartender Aaron Polsky, the Ikura Knife is the ultimate bar tool. The elegant knife features a razor-sharp six-inch forged-steel blade that’s long enough to cut a grapefruit but thin enough for carving ice balls or diamonds, with an angled point at the end for fine garnish work. The knife is designed for professionals but at just $39.99 it’s a good gift for any cocktail lover. Polsky is a bartending expert: He’s been working in hospitality since he was 18 and got his start in New York under famed barman Sasha Petraske. He subsequently worked at many of the city’s top bars, including PDT and Death & Co., before moving to Los Angeles, where he’s garnered nationwide attention and eight Spirited Awards nominations running East Hollywood’s Harvard & Stone.
Available at Cocktail Kingdom

GSN Book Review: The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock

bok_bullocktom_0000_web1“Is it any wonder that mankind stands open-mouthed before the bartender, considering the mysteries and marvels of an art that borders on magic?”  Thus begins the brief introduction to this slim volume.  It would have been helpful if the author had actually discussed the mysteries and marvels of mixology, but alas it is a mere compendium of recipes, albeit very good ones.

Tom Bullock (1872-1964) was a man ahead of his time, and probably at least in certain powerful circles the most well-known African-American bartender of the 20th century.  In fact, he is given testimonial in the book by the grandfather and great-grandfather of our 41st and 43rd POTUS (POTI?).  As well, his bartending skills are discussed by yet another president who is perhaps more well-regarded, Theodore Roosevelt.  You can read all about it in the book.  The majority of this slender hardcover is given over to just under 175 recipes that were served by Bullock at a variety of highly regarded bars in Kentucky just prior to prohibition.  Glancing through the recipes, I am immediately reminded of Jerry Thomas’ collection of recipes in his seminal “How to Mix Drinks” cocktail guide first published in 1862.  Since The Ideal Bartender was published in 1917, it is clear that not too much had changed in terms of cocktails during the intervening years.

The introduction by Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell is poignant and upbeat.  Perhaps most enlightening though, is that many of the collected recipes would be nigh impossible to make just ten years ago.  Many call for Old Tom gin and absinthe, several others require obscure spirits and liqueurs like Batavia Arrack and Creme Yvette.  It’s a significant sign that we have truly come full circle in the bartending world.  Tom would be proud to know that he had a hand in the cocktail renaissance.

The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock (1917 replica) Published by Cocktail Kingdom

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-

GSN Review: Spring 2014 Cocktail Guides

 It’s a few weeks into spring already, but it’s never too late to pick up some new cocktail guides!  The following books arrived at the GSN headquarters since the beginning of the year.

  4d0276f176a6987fa38983241f0ddf88dc64416b_600The Dead Rabbit Mixed Drinks List (2nd Edition)  If you think it’s crazy to buy a cocktail menu that doesn’t contain any actual recipes, you’d be dead wrong.  This completely new volume indeed highlights many of the featured cocktails you can order at NYC’s triple Spirited Award winning bar.  But, it’s oh so much more than that.  You get a short graphic novel about the life of John Morrissey, the original leader of Ireland’s Dead Rabbit gang, and an alcoholic history lesson.  Entirely two-thirds of the book is devoted to the amazing success story of Irish Whiskey written by award-winning spirits author, Dave Broom.  Lastly, and the icing on the cake as it were, is an essay by Barry Crockett, master distiller of Midleton Distillery where many of the fine whiskies are made today.  GSN Rating: A- Buy a copy here.

  indexgaz regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders 2013 by Gary Regan (Mixellany)  The third in an ongoing series of books dedicated to helping the working bartender.  Again, with this volume there are not a lot of cocktail recipes (see below for gaz’s other annual series 101 Best New Cocktails for those).  The 2013 manual does not disappoint, and in my opinion is the best of the bunch as gaz has collected dozens of down-to-earth and thought-provoking interviews from both bartenders and bar backs from around the globe.  gaz of course, has his say as well in his choice of editorial direction.  This year he focuses on Mindful Bartending (a favorite of his), women in the industry and detailed studies of some often overlooked ingredients in cocktails.  This book makes for easy and breezy reading, but is filled with invaluable tricks of the trade.   GSN Rating: A- Purchase here.

indexgaz regan’s 101 Best New Cocktails Volume III by Gary Regan (Mixellany)  The third in an ongoing series devoted to cutting edge cocktails from around the globe.  gaz has a tough job.  Every bartender with a dream of stardom sending him their best recipes hoping that he will choose theirs for inclusion.  I asked him once how he manages to taste them all.  He told me that he doesn’t.  First he reads the recipes and sees if they sound interesting.  He then tries the ones that tickle his fancy.  This latest volume includes full color photographs of each drink, along with the recipe and notes by both the creators and gaz himself.  If you want to check the pulse of what’s happening in the cocktail world, look no further than this concise and approachable volume.  GSN Rating: A  Buy a copy here.

  20131001_102455_138330149557Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean by Jeff Berry (Cocktail Kingdom)  Jeff Berry has a talent for giving his readers history lessons that are both educational and entertaining.  With his latest 300+ page volume, he has totally outdone everything he’s ever done before.  Literally every page is dripping with amazing discoveries, photographs and recipes that you will find it hard to put down.  It’s almost as if you are watching the history of what are collectively known as “tiki drinks” unfold in a “Mad Men” type way.  If you have any interest in either rum, punch, tropical libations or even just the history of alcoholic commerce, you need this book.  Oh, and there are 35 previously unpublished recipes in here for those of you (like myself) who need to try everything.  GSN Rating: A++ Pick up a copy here.

indexForgotten Drinks of Colonial New England by Corin Hirsch (American Palate)  This fascinating book is almost a prelude to David Wondrich’s “Imbibe!”, filling the reader in on the drinking customs and recipes of early Americans.  The fact that no one has written a book like this before is of note.  Perhaps it has to do with both the American Revolution and the desire to lose the traditions of England, along with the sense of American ingenuity in creating new things to drink.  That being said, any bartender worth his salt would do well to read this book in order to understand the flavor profiles of what were in a real sense proto-cocktails.  The names of these drinks themselves are a mouthful: Calibogus, Ebulum, Syllabub, and my personal favorite, Whistle-Belly Vengeance.  Granted, some of these recipes don’t sound that great, but luckily for us, many of them have been modernized so they are palatable.  A healthy dose of historical data is also of benefit for those of us who desire to know the evolution of our country’s libations.  GSN Rating: A-  Purloin your own tome here.

indexThe Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level by Dinah Sanders (Sanders & Gratz)  Where has this book been all my life?  For those of us who love to sample as many cocktails as we can when visiting a new bar, unfortunately there comes a point where the alcohol wins. With this well researched and beautifully produced hardcover, not only do you get an array of fantastic recipes from 21st century world-class bartenders, but a salient selection of recipes from the annals of cocktailian history.  Each page portrays the drink in an artfully shot photograph along with where the recipe hails from and notes on suggested brands of ingredients.  A particularly helpful inclusion are sections on cocktails defined by mood, kind, era, and ingredients.  If nothing else, this book will help save your liver.  GSN Rating: A+  Get a copy here.

GSN Review: Cocktail Kingdom Bitters

imagesIf you still live under a rock somewhere, then you probably haven’t heard of Cocktail Kingdom. Purveyors of ultra high quality barware, replicas of rare cocktail manuals, bitters and syrups; they have now launched their own line of cocktail bitters.  The falernum bitters were crafted in conjunction with Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds, while the wormwood bitter recipe was spearheaded by SeanMike Whipkey from the Scofflaw’s Den website.

177995-cocktail-kingdom-falernum-B1Barrel Aged Falernum Bitters – Falernum is one of those flavors that rarely makes an appearance outside of tiki and faux tropical drinks.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s inappropriate in let’s say, a rum old-fashioned, vodka martini, or even a margarita.  The thing about traditional falernum is that it combines flavors that are sour, nutty and spicy in a highly sweetened base.  The Cocktail Kingdom bitters take away the sugar and leave you with nothing but the basics.  The initial taste is of bitter and sour lime, along with just the slightest hint of almond.  But, the real killer here is the clove.  It just nails it, and adds the perfect touch of intrigue.  These bitters fill a gap in the field.  GSN Rating: A+

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177994-cocktail-kingdon-wormwood-B1Wormwood Bitters – At first, the thought of ingesting wormwood seems counter-intuitive.  Yet, there is a historical precedent for these.  When absinthe was illegal, a few drops of wormwood bitters added to an anise flavored liqueur would approximate the flavor of absinthe.  Wormwood is known to be one of the bitterest plants on the earth, so it makes sense that it would tone down the relative sweetness of a liqueur.  These bitters are intensely bitter in conjunction with an amazing load of peppery spice.  Try these in a Sazerac (along with Peychaud’s) and see what happens.  These will also add an interesting twist to lighter style whiskies from Ireland and Canada in cocktails.    GSN Rating: B+

For more information about Cocktail Kingdom go here.

GSN Review: Summer 2013 Cocktail Guides

imagesLooking for a little summer reading?  Good Spirits News has some suggestions for you!

Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle (Running Press)If you enjoy puns, this is the book for you.  Loaded with 65 easy-to-make cocktails loosely based on literature (Gin Eyre, anyone?), it’s a fun and breezy little volume for the book lover who also enjoys a libation while they curl up with a good read.  There are even punch-sized recipes for book clubs, non-alcoholic drinks (The Phantom Tolljuice is clever, no?), recipes for edibles to munch on and even a few literary games to play.  GSN Rating: B-

imagesAn Illustrated Guide to Cocktails by Orr Shtuhl (Gotham Books)As much an introduction to the perennial classics of the last 150 years, as a guide to the men and women who created them; this book is a primer in all things cocktail.  What makes it especially fun are the lighthearted illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber who has a “New Yorker Magazine” style of cartooning.  But, the heart of this volume is the collection of stories illuminating how and when and where the world’s greatest bartenders came up with their timeless creations.  GSN Rating: B+

imagesGin: A Global History by Lesley Jacobs Solmonson (Reaktion Books) I have well over half a dozen books on the history of gin on my bookshelf, and yet there always seems to be more that needs to be said.  Ms. Solmonson’s brilliant little tome takes it’s place among the best.  It truly is a global history, focusing on the development of gin styles from sweet and malty to dry and crisp, along with relevant period illustrations giving the reader a broad sense of just how important gin has been in the world of spirits.  After the well researched facts have been laid out, there are a few appendices which are of especial value.  Cocktail recipes by the likes of Dale DeGroff, gaz Regan, David Wondrich and others, along with short bios of gins that are worth seeking out.  A very nice volume in an ongoing series dedicated to all things edible and libatious.  GSN Rating: A-

indexCocktail Kingdom Professional Barware Product Catalogue Vol. 1 (CocktailKingdom.com)Not so much a cocktail guide as a snapshot of high quality tools available to bartenders today, this is a booklet which replicates many of the 20th century barware guides. Japanese mixing glasses, silver julep cups, copper Moscow Mule mugs, gold barspoons and so on….  I own several of these pieces and use them on a daily basis.  You will not be disappointed by the quality of these tools.  Do yourself a favor and check out their selection of indispensable barware.  They also have a selection of museum quality reproductions of classic, long out of print (re: expensive) cocktail guides.    GSN Rating: B+

indexVodka Distilled by Tony Abou-Ganim (Surrey Books)Go to any decently stocked bookshop and you will find myriad books on whiskies, gins, rums and tequilas.  How many books can you find on the subject of vodka? Answer: Next to none.  that situation has been rectified by the inestimable Tony Abou-Ganim.  Do you think vodka is a plain, boring spirit used as a fast route to inebriation?  Think again.  Tony lays out the fundamentals of this timeless spirit and its many uses.  The sheer number of cocktail recipes will keep you coming back for more, as well as the insightful reviews of vodkas currently on the market.  What Tony understands that few bartenders realize, is that vodka is as complex and subtle as Scotch whisky.  After reading this fascinating book, you will realize that all vodkas are not created equal.  Well done, and a crucial asset to your library.  GSN Rating A

indexObituary Cocktail: The Great Saloons of New Orleans by Kerri McCaffety (Pelican)Having been to New Orleans several times, I’ve always thought that a book about the bars in the world’s greatest cocktail city would be a no-brainer.  Turns out that one was published back in 2011.  So, not a new book, but one that escaped my notice until now.  An over-sized coffee-table book, Obituary Cocktail takes the reader on a journey through the deepest recesses of some of NOLA’s most iconic bars.  For anyone who has sat at the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar or sipped an Absinthe Frappe at the Napoleon Bar, this is a walk down memory lane.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of sipping cocktails at Tujague’s or aboard the Natchez Queen, this will serve as an enticement to make plans to visit and stay for as long as you are able.  The pictures give a closer look at many of the details a casual visitor might miss, and the text is insightful and expressive in its love of the Crescent City.  Beautiful and elegant, this book is a lovely way to spend an afternoon or evening while sipping a Sazerac or Ramos Gin Fizz.  GSN Rating: A

indexMicro-Distilleries in the U.S. and Canada Third Edition by David J. Reimer Sr. (Crave Press) – I’ve previously reviewed the second edition here.  Suffice it to say that the third edition continues the tradition with an up-to-the-minute listing of North American craft distilleries.  What is particularly noticeable between the two editions is the exponential number of new distilleries.  Virtually every state in the union and every province in Canada now have their own craft distilleries.  Ten years ago, this would have been a laughable prospect.  Certainly, many of these distilleries will either not make the cut (no pun intended) or be eventually be bought out by some major spirits conglomeration.  But, the overall pulse of the industry is one of self-expression, excitement and hope.  If you are looking for a weekend road trip to go on a spirits tasting, this tome is invaluable.  For the liquor connoisseur, this book serves as a guidepost to the brave new world of craft spirits.  GSN Rating: B+

Dead_Rabbit_Mixed_DrinksThe Dead Rabbit Mixed Drinks List 1st Edition (Drinksology) – No.  This is not a list of cocktails that celebrate the method of finding out a woman is pregnant.  This is THE list of cocktails available at New York City’s latest world class bar.  I myself made a journey down to the tip of Manhattan a few months ago to check out this oddly named neighborhood grocery and grog.  Oh my god.  If you ever have the chance to darken their doors, do so.  A veritable step into everything a bar should be and a replication of the best that a local ever was, is epitomized in the Dead Rabbit.  When seated upstairs, you are presented with this menu, which honestly should be called Cocktail History 101-104.  If I could have secreted a copy on my person when I left the premises, I would have; but I did the honest thing and purchased a copy.  It is amazing, beautiful and of the highest standards both in publication and in choice of beverages.  You will learn more reading this scant volume in an hour than you might think possible.  To truly grasp the development and significance of cocktails throughout history, you need to obtain a copy of this book.  Never mind the hefty price tag, it is well worth it. My only hesitation in giving this an A+ rating, is that the recipes do not specify proportions for the home enthusiast.  Still, well deserving of a GSN Rating: A-

indexAphrodisiacs With a Twist by Mark Sexauer (1 Pony Rye Corp.) – A true cocktail guide, this book seeks to initiate the reader into the world of alcoholic sexual enhancements.  Surprisingly, there have been no other cocktail books published that I’m aware of that seek to go under the covers and undress the world of aphrodisiacs.  Many of the ingredients are already in your kitchen, but you may be unaware of their potential libidinous power behind the (um…) stick.  Over 250 pages of recipes using everything from Banana to Vanilla are included with eye-catching full-color photographs.  Some ingredients will definitely make you think, such as damiana and mustard, but they work!  Most recipes are fairly simple and require a minimal amount of preparation, and if you have a decent amount of kitchen tools and spices already, you will be well ahead of the game.  An excellent book that shows just how forward thinking West coast bartending is, this book gets a rare GSN Rating: A+.