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+