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: 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: Summer 2012 Cocktail Guides

Time to make room for some new cocktail books on your back bar!  The following have recently caught your editor’s eye and I feel they stand out amongst the competition this Summer.

!Hola Tequila! by Colleen Graham (Sellers)  Despite the wealth of high quality tequilas available in the U.S. at this time in history, there still seems to be a distinct lack of education about what tequila actually is.  Ask the average person, and they immediately conjure one of two images from their personal experience: tequila shots or blended margaritas.  This is unfortunate, and this new book seeks to remedy that lack of knowledge by discussing tequila as a spirit that not only embodies the soul of the place where it is created, but also highlights the painstaking process which gives us this honorable spirit.

Ms. Graham’s book is generously illustrated with a number of full color pictures depicting everything from agave harvests, to distilleries, along with dozens of unique and well made cocktails.  But, what makes this book particularly worthwhile is the material on tequila production, the history of tequila, and a primer on the differences found in aged agave based spirits.  The 90 cocktails and shooters aren’t shabby either.  All sound delicious, and are supplemented by in depth background info on the inspiration behind their creation.  GSN Rating: B

Edible Cocktails by Natalie Bovis (Adams Media)  Natalie is known for making some of the most delectable drinks on the planet and the ones she’s included herein are no exception. This book looks slim, but don’t let it fool you, the recipes included will easily keep you busy for a year.  There are over 200 pages of amazingly creative and valuable cocktail-related information.  Not only will you find many original cocktails, but the real treat here are the recipes for making your own ingredients.  As more and more bartenders are looking to craft bespoke ingredients for their cocktails, this volume will prove a great launching point.  Detailed instructions on how to make your own syrups, jams, jellies, shrubs, infusions, liqueurs, bitters, mixers and garnishes provide a wealth of invaluable information for anyone looking to make the leap beyond pre-bottled ingredients.  This is down-to-earth stuff, not technical molecular mixology which will require you to buy expensive equipment.  In other words, anyone can do it.

Along with the text are plenty of gorgeous photos artfully illuminating the cocktails within.  An added bonus are the contributions by other world-class bartenders about everything from mindful bartending to “greening” up your bar. Rating: A

gaz Regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders 2012 (Mixellany)  Speaking of mindful bartending, the second follow-up volume by the inestimable gaz regan has arrived.  gaz is very canny in that not only do these volumes contain a virtual yearbook of expert bartenders, but each also contains a few chapters of gaz’s ongoing autobiography.  So, if you want the whole story of how Gary became gaz, you’re going to eventually have to buy the whole set. Since he’s only up to the mid-1970’s, I’m thinking maybe 2025 will complete the collection.

The real meat of these books are the bios of  notable world-class bartenders, many of whom you may have never heard of, and others who are household names.  (Well, in my household, anyway).  A great idea would be to bring this book with you when you’re visiting their home bars and have them sign their particular page.  Or, you could just bring it to Tales of the Cocktail or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and fill most of the book in one swell foop.

This year’s tome also contains a section on Mindful Bartending.  If you haven’t attended gaz’s seminar on this, the chapter will give you a good of idea of what goes on, minus gaz’s occasionally entertaining f-bombs.  Also, of note are short chapters on free-pouring, bar rails, and Japanese whisky, and reprinted blogs by a few of the leading lights in the cocktail world.  Rating: B+

Tales of the Cocktail From A to Z (Mixellany)  For those of us who’ve been to Tales, this book is full of memories.  For those of you who’ve not yet had the pleasure, this is as close as you will get until you finally get to the Big Easy during a sweltering late July.  This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Tales, and as such, makes an opportune time to reflect on what the festival really is.  Made up of three sections, this is almost a thesis on how to successfully begin and maintain a world-class celebration of drinking.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  This book is a celebration of drinking.

The first chapter details how it all came to be in 2003, along with lists of the various seminars presented over the years along with dozens of original cocktail recipes that were served at the time.  Chapter two is a short walking tour of cocktailian related locations in NOLA.  (I am pleased to find that I’ve visited 90% of them in my travels).  Lastly, and taking up the most room in the book is the A-Z mentioned in the title.  This is a rather odd list of everyone and everything that has been a part of Tales and New Orleans culture.  So, for instance, you will find King Cake and Eben Klemm listed next to each other.  It makes for a very eclectic and medieval styled compendium of spirituous trivia; and as such, more of an interesting novelty than a readable text.  Still, the book as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts and makes for an accurate snapshot of what has become the greatest annual party ever held!  Rating: B