GSN Review: Autumn 2013 Cocktail Guides

With the fall season just around the corner, here are some new cocktail and spirits books to curl up with on a cool evening.  Just make sure you have a drink in hand!

indexFood & Wine Cocktails 2013 – Edited by Kate Krader and Jim Meehan (American Express Publishing)  These concise and yet very detailed cocktail guides have been published for the past nine years and they continue to lead the way in terms of what is trending in American cocktail culture.  Featuring libations created by almost three dozen of the leading lights in the mixological world, along with appetizers and bar snacks from many world-class venues, this guide will keep you busy for weeks.  Granted, you will easily go broke buying all of the ingredients needed, but hey, you only live once.  A nice selection of recommended bars from major cities, along with sources for elegant glassware and barware round out this beautifully illustrated little volume.  GSN Rating: A+

indexGenever: 500 Years of History in a Bottle by Veronique Van Acker-Beittel (Flemish Lion LLC)  Books about gin abound, but this is the first English publication about genever that I’m aware of.  The author is well-informed about the history of this traditional spirit, having grown up in Belgium.  Starting in the 13th century, she quickly moves through the history of genever and it’s effects on both the economy and the culture of Europe over the centuries.  Period black and white illustrations are sprinkled liberally throughout, along with several photographs of distilleries and bars.  Perhaps the most interesting chapter is entitled “Genever Drinking Rituals”.  Having myself participated in the kopstootje, I appreciated knowing more about the various ways genever is enjoyed through social experience.  The book is also accented with a number of recipes for young, old and fruit genever based cocktails.  This book is a great introduction to a spirit that is just beginning to make its mark upon the New World.  GSN Rating: B+

indexCocktails by Amy Sacco (Assouline)  This is a small coffee table styled book with lots of photos of bars, pithy quotes and the occasional cocktail glamour shot with an original recipe.  More of a vanity project than anything else, this book still gives a glimpse into the life of the upscale bar world around the turn of the 21st century.  Lots of beautiful 20-somethings paired with period photos from the post-prohibition era make sense in a kind of mixological mash-up.  Not too much of substance here, but regardless a beautifully produced volume.  GSN Rating: C+

indexCocktails & Amuse-Bouches For Her & For Him by Daniel Boulud (Assouline)
A collection of artistically photographed drinks along with original recipes by Daniel Boulud and Xavier Herit from NYC’s Daniel restaurant.  Interestingly, the project is comprised of two slim volumes contained in a slip case.  One for “him” and the other for “her”.  The feminine recipes seem a bit lighter and flowery (literally), whereas the masculine drinks are more herbal, bitter and strong.  The amuse-bouche recipes are illustrated in watercolors, thus separating each book into yet another two halves.  All of the recipes are top-notch and not too difficult to reproduce at home.  However, I think that one single volume with suggested cocktail/food pairings might have been a better publishing choice. GSN Rating: B+

indexThe Cocktail Lab by Tony Conigliaro (Ten Speed Press)
I’ve been waiting for the U.S. release of this book for over a year.  I’m glad I did, since this Americanized version has converted most of the measurements to ounces.  For those who haven’t seen Tony in action, he truly is a mad scientist.  Using laboratory equipment often not seen outside of a University classroom, he re-thinks every aspect of cocktails.  The book is broken into chapters that include drinks that are culinary, inspired by perfume, and concept based  drinks to name a few.  Perhaps the most valuable sections are devoted to making cordials, waters, milks, liqueurs, syrups, tinctures, and foams.  These alone are worth the price of the book, since they will inspire any reader to experiment with their own cocktailian creations.  Be warned however, that you may find yourself addicted to tracking down and buying a lot of ingredients which are not easily found in the US.  Heaven help you, if you find yourself justifying the pricey purchase of a rotovator!  GSN Rating: A+

indexThe French Quarter Drinking Companion by Allison Alsup, Elizabeth Pearce & Richard Read (Pelican)
I’ve been to New Orleans several times and it seems as if there are more new bars in the French Quarter every time I go.  I guess this only makes sense since New Orleans is known as a drinking city.  You can even get a “go-cup” at many places and take your drink to the streets.  Reading this book, it becomes apparent that you  can do a  2-3 hour bar crawl that will include stops at a dive bar, a hotel bar, a hipster bar, a restaurant bar, a chain bar and even an LGTB friendly bar if you’re so inclined.  That’s not even mentioning the ever-present neon colored Daiquiri shops.  Most of the bars listed here are worth a visit, and the book helps newbies decide what they should order to get the best experience.  The anecdotal stories of visits by the authors are also worth a read; working both as an indicator of New Orleans culture and as amusing short tales of a unique world where visitors and locals alike are treated as equals.  I wish there were more photographs of the inside of the bars, but the prose does a fair job of conjuring up the atmospheres of the interiors.  GSN Rating: B

51n7v51MLrLBottoms Up – 52 Cock-Tail Spins for High Flyers From the Recipes of Many Celebrities (Redowa Press)
A very nice reprint of an extremely rare cocktail guide published during prohibition.  Only two copies are known to exist, and one of them recently sold for a hefty sum.  This is the kind of book that gives insight into what Hollywood’s elite were calling for when it was still illegal.  Being a fan of the silent film era myself, I was surprised that there are many celebrities who contributed their favorite recipes of whom I’d never heard.  None of the drinks are particularly unusual and there is no tantalizing mention of tequila or vodka being used.  However, you will find drinks calling for Boker’s Bitters and Absinthe!  Brief historical information about the original publisher and other cocktail books from the period are also included.  GSN Rating: B-

indexLiquid Vacation – 77 Refreshing Tropical Drinks From Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas by P. Moss (Stephens Press)  For lovers of mid-century modern kitsch and tiki culture, this book is just the ticket.  Surprisingly, considering you can find virtually everything in the sin city, there is only one tiki bar in all of Las Vegas and it is Frankie’s Tiki Room.  This book is basically a menu of all of their original drinks with photos and recipes, plus the usual lineup of classic faux tropical beverages from the Mai Tai to the Zombie.  What sets this volume apart from just a pretty book of recipes are the sections on the history of Tiki Culture in Vegas, when it was hip; as well as vintage bars that sadly are long gone.  Of note are dozens of original illustrations by the artist known simply as “Squid”.  The only thing missing is a CD of exotica to listen to while you fire up the blender and dig out the tiki mugs and swizzle sticks.  GSN Rating: B+

GSN Review: Winter 2011 Cocktail Guides

Loads of new cocktail books arrived via Reindeer-driven sleigh to the GSN review desk last month.  So, without further ado (ok, just one cocktail before I start. ….  there, that’s better), let’s see what the jolly old elf brought me.

First off, we have All the Gin Joints by Michael Turback.  The dedication is to David Embury (of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks fame) so you know this is already ahead of the pack in terms of content.  Containing a brief introduction about gin and bar tools, the real meat of the book is the collection of 101 recipes by a vast array of cocktailians from Keenan Ahlo to Dushan Zaric.  Most bartenders are from major cities on the East or West coast, but also some relative newcomers to the cocktail scene are represented including some from Phoenix, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; Clayton, MO and Ithaca, NY.  A lot of fun stuff here with some background info from the mixologists themselves.  The only downside to this affair is that there are zero pictures.  That being said, this is a fantastic tome for any gin lover and is highly recommended!  GSN Rating: A-

The American Cocktail by The Editors of Imbibe Magazine  Imbibe magazine is one of the few publications that I regularly read cover to cover when it arrives.  I was excited to see that they are branching out into books now.  The focus here is on original cocktails (although a few classics like the Seelbach, Ward Eight and Tom & Jerry are included) broken down into regions of the USA: South, Northeast, Midwest, West and West Coast.  The photographs are ultra high quality, as they are in the bi-monthly magazine and the recipes are simple enough that no obscure ingredients or tools are necessary.  Of particular note are the lists of online resources and U.S. distillers.  Truly a snapshot of American cocktail culture one-tenth of the way into the 21st century, this book is well worth adding to your book collection and using regularly.  GSN Rating: A

Bloody Mary by Jeffrey M. Pogash  This is a unique limited edition letterpress printed book,and more of a collectible broadside than something you’ll be refering to on a regular basis.  The focus here is on the history of the Bloody Mary, its creation and creators.  Did I say creators?  Without giving too much away, you will discover within its brief 34 pages who the most likely candidates are and the pros and cons supporting each.   At the end of the book is a recipe for the World’s Best Bloody Mary (according to Mr. Pogash, anyway) which makes a gallon of the stuff.  Nicely done and an interesting read.  Perhaps there will be more of these cocktail books printed in future.  I know I’d certainly be interested.  GSN Rating: B+

Cocktails with Bompas & Parr  I was most excited to see this volume, as the authors are quite well-known in Britain for their unusual cocktail events (aerosol G&T’s anyone?) and bizarre sensory approach to food and beverage.  Loaded with many equally bizarre cocktail photographs (eyeball floating in a Sazerac?), this book also includes a lot of great recipes.  Thankfully, the measurements are given in both British and US terminology.  Half of the book is given over to the usual classics and bar tool info, but the latter half is full of some truly great cocktail finds broken down into the following categories: Old & Obscure, Punches & Party Drinks, and Cures.  There’s also a section on bar snacks including what is undoubtedly a food item that won’t be making an appearance on many American bar menus: Quail Cottage.  All in all, a kind of hybrid coffee table book and at the same time a compendium of British mixological eccentricism.  GSN Rating: A-

Extra Dry, With a Twist by Shaun P. Daugherty  Not a new book, as it was published in 2008, but one that is new to me.  A manual on the qualities and mindset of bartending and not a cocktail guide, this book should be required reading for anyone entering the field.  Honestly, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by sitting down for a few hours and reading this book.  Forget bar school (a waste of money, IMHO) this book will teach you the real things you need to succeed.  I can sum them up here: basic behind the bar skills, customer service, and personal integrity. What makes this book more than just a dry manual, is the personal experience that the author shares.  He gives relevant examples in a conversational way that never speaks down to the reader.  I highly recommend this book as a refresher course, even if you’ve already been bartending for several years.  GSN Rating: A+

Food & Wine Cocktails 2011 – This series has been published going on seven years now and this latest edition gets a thumbs up from none other than Anthony Bourdain, host of “No Reservations”.  You can’t do much better than this book to find out the latest cocktail trends happening around the USA.  A compendium of the “who’s who” of up and comers in the American cocktail world, there are more original recipes in here than virtually any other cocktail guide I’ve seen.  Easily approachable for the novice, this also challenges the thinking of many established bartenders by including sections on cocktail/food pairing, mock-tails and seasonally based drinks.  Personally, I find the resource lists of bar tools, food recipes and top-rated bars across the country to be well worth the price of admission.  This series keeps upping the bar year after year.  Great stuff!  GSN Rating: A+

Home Bar Basics and Not-So-Basics by Dave Stolte – Gary Regan turned me on to this tiny and quite retro volume.  It’s designed to look like it’s been sitting on someone’s back bar shelf for a few decades with the pages slightly tanned along the edges.  What makes this book special are the illustrations by the author.  They are cute, sublime and memorable.  After reading this book, you’ll most likely picture each image when you make the represented drink.  Only 25 recipes are included and virtually all of them standards that you already know, but there are three listed at the very end which are pretty damn cool and could well become new standards: one from Alembic in San Francisco, one from Milk & Honey in NYC and one from The Varnish in L.A.  An extra bonus is a list of everything you’ll need to make all 25 drinks from hardware to garnishes.  GSN Rating: B+

Mr. Boston 75th Anniversary Edition – There’s something to be said for a book that has sold over 11,000,000 copies since it first came out in 1935.  There is a reason for those sales, as well.  The Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide has had the foresight to evolve with changing tastes, even to the point of no longer pushing their own brand within its pages.  As a series of books (you could go broke trying to collect every edition), the Mr. Boston guides offer a broad timeline of America’s cocktailian fads, with each succeeding edition weeding out the less than stellar drinks and replacing them with better tasting and more balanced beverages.  This new edition features contributions from dozens of USBG members and luminaries, making it very relevant to what’s actually being served in bars across the nation.  Now is a great time to rediscover what makes this book one you can proudly display on your back bar, and even proudly refer to it when a guest asks you for drink you may never have heard of before like the unusually named “Sunset at Gowanus”.  GSN Rating:  A

The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Chris Gall (Leather Edition) – Much has been said of this book in the few months since it was first published.  Comparisons to the esoterically beautiful Art Deco inspired “Savoy Cocktail Book” are particularly apt, as this volume has the same visual appeal due to the edgy and captivating woodcut style illustrations by Chris Gall.  Mr. Gall has even designed custom stamping and a gold embossed graphic for the leather bound version, which is a tongue in cheek PDT (Please Don’t Tell) coat-of-arms (hotdog and all).  As a piece of art, this book definitely gets my vote for one of the most beautiful books published this century.  That being said, what of the text and recipes compiled by PDT’s head mixologist Jim Meehan?

I really appreciate the sections on bar design, and the behind the scenes sections on the PDT experience, etiquette and how they stock their pantry.  It gives you a sense of what it takes to create a successful and easily worked bar in a relatively small space, whether entertaining in your own home or if you’re thinking of opening the world’s next great drinking establishment.  Also of note are the sections on seasonal mixology, online resources and cocktail library suggestions.  The bulk of the volume is a compilation of recipes.  Many classic, many easy to make; others nearly impossible unless you’ve got an unlimited bank account.  Of special note are the sources of the recipes and notes by their creators for many of the drinks.  This gives a sense of ongoing history and connectedness to it all in that we are given a unique glimpse into the mystery of working behind the stick.  Really a book which will prove invaluable to experienced bartenders as well as newbies. Even the hotdog recipes rock.  GSN Rating: A+

Vintage Cocktails: Retro Recipes for the Home Mixologist by Amanda Hallay – Catching some of the retro wave of “Mad Men”, this book is primarily aimed towards women who want authentic pre-1970’s cocktail recipes.  No Long Island Iced Tea, Cosmos or Apple-tinis here (thank god!).  Each generally classic recipe is paired with some thoughts by the author and a brief history of it’s origins.  Some unusual cocktails do make an appearance in here.  The Campari Shakerato and Snowball are listed alongside an Algonquin and a Gin Sling.  Overall tho, aside from the colorful and somewhat kitchsy illustrations, there isn’t much here that I’ve not seen printed elsewhere in a better format.  Regardless, it’s nice to find an author who recognizes that not all women want frou-frou drinks.  GSN Rating: B-