GSN Review: Mid-Winter 2013 Cocktail Guides

Another round-up of spirited cocktail and liquor publications that have arrived on the Good Spirits News desk in the last few months.  Cheers!

images901 Very Good Cocktails: A Practical Guide by Stew Ellington (  Any cocktail guide that calls for Amer Picon, immediately piques my interest.  Out of the 901 recipes included in this oversized spiral-bound tome, sixteen of them include it as an ingredient.  Further examination reveals that cocktail authors such as Dale DeGroff, Ted Haigh, Paul Harrington, Gary Regan and other luminaries have bespoke recipes included.  The recipes make up the bulk of this nearly 250 page volume, but there are also interesting sections on building your liquor cabinet with the author’s brand recommendations; 68 lists of the cocktails by varied themes (including my favorite “Pretentious or otherwise annoying”); and a long list of available resources.  This is a great book to spend time with, and the fact that it stays open on the bar counter makes it helpful when you’re trying to make something for the first time.  GSN Rating: A-

imagesCocktails: A Global History by Joseph M. Carlin (Reaktion Books)  Surprisingly, even though this slender book is less than 140 pages long, it contains a lot of information about the history of what we call the cocktail.  Starting with distillation, then punches, taverns, the prohibition globalization of cocktails, to home bars in the mid 20th century to current trends of food pairings with drinks, it hits all of the major points.  If you’re fairly familiar with all of this, there is still a reason to purchase this book (one in an ongoing series of volumes about food and beverage), and that is the plethora of rare photographs, lithos and promotional materials from the past few centuries.  It seriously makes me want to pick up the rest of the set.  GSN Rating: B+

imagesThe Deans of Drink by Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown (Mixellany Limited)  The fabulous duo have done it again with their latest biographical treatise on two of the greatest bartenders from the golden age of mixology.  Harry Johnson (Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual 1934) and Harry Craddock (The Savoy Cocktail Book 1930) both set the stage for the drinks revolution we have today.  Tracing the personal histories of both men, much of which has been unknown until this publication, takes up the majority of the book; but there are also dozens of one-of-a-kind recipes included by current cocktail luminaries including Ago Perrone, Erik Ellestad, Erik Lorincz, Gary ‘gaz’ Regan, H. Joseph Ehrmann, Jamie Boudreau, Jason Kosmas, Peter Dorelli and even yours truly.  If you want to understand the place and mindset of the men who made mixology an enviable craft, this is one book you’ll want to pick up.  GSN Rating: A

imagesThe Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Books)  I had the pleasure of meeting the author a few years ago at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, and at the time she shared with me the premise of the book on which she was currently writing.  I wasn’t sure how much information she would be able to uncover about the plants and herbs that go into the spirits and liqueurs we drink, seeing as most companies are very tight-lipped about the ingredients they use.  However, even a quick glance through this book is enlightening.  Did you know that sorghum is the world’s most imbibed ingredient?  Or that Benedictine includes saffron (the world’s most expensive spice)?  Fascinating and well written, this book is essential for any bartender who wants to understand the reason why what we drink tastes the way it does.  A healthy dose of cocktail recipes is included along with instructions for making a dozen syrups, infusions and garnishes.  Highly recommended!  GSN Rating: A+

imagesThe Famous Grouse: A Whiskey Companion (Ebury Publishing)  These days, there is a lot of focus on single malt whiskies, but when considering a blended Scotch The Famous Grouse is one that often comes up in conversation.  For those of you interested in knowing more about the distillery itself, recipes (both cocktailian and foodie) and even the story behind their Guinness World record holding distillery cat Towser, this is the book for you.  I only wish they had chosen photographs of the drinks and edibles instead of the mid-century modern illustrations, whimsical as they are.  GSN Rating: B-

imagesIce Cream Happy Hour: 50 Boozy Treats You Spike, Freeze and Serve by Valerie Lum and Jenise Addison (Ulysses Press)  Oftentimes when a waitress approaches a table to make her penultimate appearance and ask “Are we having dessert?”, I usually say, “I already have my dessert in a glass” and point to my Negroni or Manhattan.  However, there are times when I am in the mood for something a little sweeter and substantial.  This book fills the bill with recipes that will turn classic cocktails into ice creams, sorbets, sherbets, sundaes and floats.  Imagine jasmine and sake ice cream, a Manhattan on a cone, or a Dark & Stormy float and you get the idea.  Pretty cool stuff, and something pretty cooling to look forward to this summer!  GSN Rating: B+

imagesOld Man Drinks: Recipes, Advice, and Barstool Wisdom by Robert Schnakenberg (Quirk)  This is a great little book to gift the old man in your life.  Filled with dozens of all-time classics from the Algonquin to the Ward Eight, each recipe is accompanied by a short history of the drink. Scattered throughout this pocket-sized tome are photographs of retiree-aged bartenders and barflies along with a few pithy quotes.  Overall, this is a perfect introduction to historical cocktails in an easy to read format.  GSN Rating: B+

imagesThe Perfect Drink for Every Occasion: 151 Cocktails that will freshen your breath, impress a hot date, cure a hangover, and more! by Duane Swierczynski (Quirk)  If the subtitle to this book is any indication, the advice therein is all you will need for a successful evening out and a painless recovery the next morning.  However, a quick look through the book shows that most of the drinks are simply clever pairings  based on the name of the cocktail (i.e.- You’ve hit a wall in your career – have a Harvey Wallbanger).  There are plenty of new cocktails in here, but most are of the ultra-sweet and uber-simple variety.  More of a gimmick than something you’ll pull out again and again.  GSN Rating: C

imagesPoptails: 60 Boozy Treats Served on a Stick by Erin Nichols (Ulysses Press)  A companion volume to “Ice Cream Happy Hour” (see above), this takes the same premise of turning cocktails into treats (aren’t they already treats?).  This time around, the focus is on ice and pudding pops.  Some of the recipes look amazing due the inclusion of whole pieces of fruit and bright food coloring.  Try some of these recipes at your next pool party, just make sure the kids don’t grab them!  GSN Rating: B-

imagesTo Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene (Perigee)  Sure, there are some well-known authors who have created cocktails (Ian Fleming’s Vesper, anyone?), but how many have cocktails named after them?  And what if the author was known as an habitual boozer, enthusiastic sportsman and a Nobel prize winner?  Well, then, you’d have Mr. Hemingway.  This book has been a long time coming, and has been expertly handled by Philip Greene, himself a descendent of New Orleans’ Antoine Peychaud.  Interspersed with stories about Hemingway’s life along with pertinent excerpts from his many books, there are plenty of cocktails to try, along with rare photographs to put you in the middle of the action.  There’s also a witty and erudite introduction by Professor David Wondrich.  Recommended for book lovers, cocktail lovers and all lovers of life.  GSN Rating: A+

imagesThe World of Spirits and Cocktails by André Dominé (h.f. ullmann)  This book actually came out five years ago, but I was just made aware of it recently.  Honestly, this is probably the best book ever produced on alcohol.  You will learn more from this book about everything from brandies to whiskies to rums to fortified wines than you thought possible.  Six hundred pages are given over to the subject, and every page is beautifully decorated with full-color photographs and reproductions of spirit related art.  An introduction to the history of both alcohol and cocktails takes up the first one hundred pages, and the last one hundred are given over to cocktails and their recipes.  If there was a college level course on liquor and bartending, this would be its textbook.  Perhaps my only criticism is that the recipes are not user-friendly for Americans (it has been translated from German), as many of them call for tablespoons and barspoons of liquor rather than ounces.  That aside, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Every bartender who takes the craft seriously should start reading this book as soon as possible!  GSN Rating: A++