GSN Review: Sipsmith London Dry Gin

SipsmithSipsmith is celebrating their 5th Anniversary on March 14th of this year.  Imagined by ex-brewer Sam Galsworthy and former Diageo strategy manager Fairfax Hall, they were joined by cocktail and spirits historian Jared Brown who became the master distiller.  The company is only one of four distilleries located within the city of London, England (interestingly, in the former offices of Michael “The Beerhunter” Jackson).  Using a copper-pot still nicknamed Prudence, they produce a startlingly small amount of spirit per run.  Less than 80 gallons is crafted at a time.  The distillate is then brought down to proof with water from the Lydwell Spring.

Made with a blend of ten herbs, citrus and spices including Angelica Root, Cassia Bark, Cinnamon, Coriander Seed, Ground Almond, Juniper berries, Lemon Peel, Liquorice Root, Orange Peel and Orris Root, Sipsmith is a traditional London Dry style gin.

Sipsmith Gin (83.2 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Fresh, crisp juniper with a heady aroma.
Taste: Lots of citrus up front with “hello! look at me!” juniper coming in a close second.  Quite dry and bracing with a fair amount of body and character.  Wintery and warming at the same time.
Finish: Medium long with peppery notes leaving a lasting impression.
Overall: A true artisanal gin that stays true to its English roots.  Easily mixable with anything, yet will give a boost of engaging terroir and intensity.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Sipsmith

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++

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.