As the art of the cocktail has flourished, so has writing about drinks. From cocktail historian David Wondrich’s requisite “Imbibe!” to the as-seen-on-back-bars “The PDT Cocktail Book,” there is no shortage of literature to help make your next tipple a memorable one and every year the canon expands.
Last year Amy Stewart’s raved-about “The Drunken Botanist” landed on shelves and in Amazon search results, and drinks sage Gaz Regan devoted an entire book to the bitter and the beloved Negroni. Naturally, 2014 produced another diverse crop of bibulous texts. With honorable mention to Michael Dietsch’s ode de shrubs (“Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times,” 224 pages, $24.95), here are a few standouts from this year’s class.
“The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique,” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler with Martha Holmberg (Chronicle Books, 288 pages, $30). The blog for Portland, Ore., barman Jeffrey Morgenthaler has been a go-to resource for industry workers and enthusiasts alike. Rather than use his first foray into the book-publishing world as a massive recipe dump, the influential cocktailer focused more on technique (as the title asserts) — from the dos and don’ts of shaking and stirring to DIY syrups, tinctures and ginger beer. It’s a thoughtful, up-to-date guide for fledgling home bartenders, as Morgenthaler’s methods don’t require a “mixology” degree or impractical gadgetry (see his “MacGyver centrifuge,” aka a cheesecloth and salad spinner). His cut-the-crap prose makes it a fun and informative read that will have you flaming orange peels like a pro.
“Liquid Intelligence,” by Dave Arnold (W.W. Norton & Co., 416 pages, $35). This one might be a little intense for casual “I just wanna make cool drinks” types. Famed chef and drink maker Dave Arnold pulls back the curtain on the present and future of cocktailing, revealing not magic, but the science behind world-class drinks. Reading “Liquid Intelligence” is like attending class with a hip chemistry prof who wants to give you the tastiest buzz possible. Arnold’s lab-coat geekery meets the barroom in sections on nitro-muddling, rotovap usage or explaining how temperature affects the perception of sweetness. It’s predicated on the culinary innovator’s years of experiments, and, while high-minded, it’s never dry, offering enthusiasts a window to cutting-edge bartending.
“The Old-Fashioned,” by Robert Simonson (Ten Speed Press, 168 pages, $19). Where Arnold’s book is about science, Simonson’s is about romance. Following Regan’s Negroni screed, the New York Times cocktail columnist fittingly dedicated a book to the original cocktail: the Old-Fashioned. Mining newspaper reports and colorful, old-timey anecdotes, Simonson explores the lore and evolving customs surrounding the iconic elixir. The first half concisely follows the onetime wake-up drink’s rise, fall and rise again through regional idiosyncrasies (wacky Wisconsinites), the “ ‘Mad Men’ effect” and its cult status in cocktail bars. The second half is a recipe guide to renditions old and new, including the specs for Toby Maloney’s popular Black Walnut Old-Fashioned, which he made for Minneapolis’ Bradstreet Craftshouse.
“Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails,” by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald and Alex Day (Ten Speed Press, 300 pages, $40). One of New York’s leading cocktail bars, Death and Co, opens its playbook while offering a unique spin on the standard cocktail book. “Death & Co” covers the basics — tools, drink components and technique — interspersed with fun (if back-patting) meet-the-regular bios and behind-the-scenes looks at running the bar. But after the fundamentals, the book offers strategies for creating new drinks — something many amateur bartenders rush into — as well as house recipes for classics and new creations, including its oft-replicated Oaxaca Old-Fashioned. User-friendly organization, which many cocktail books lack, makes finding the right recipe easy, whether the mood calls for a shaken gin drink or Manhattan variation.
“Tasting Whiskey,” by Lew Bryson (Storey Publishing, 255 pages, $19). This book belongs on the holiday gift wish list of any budding whiskey lover. Whisky Advocate magazine managing editor Lew Bryson has compiled a quintessential grain-to-gullet guide to appreciating the hallowed spirit. The early chapters occasionally read a bit textbook-y while detailing the ins and outs of fermentation and distillation, but lay a foundation for understanding what passes your lips. Bryson is authoritative and resolutely anti-snobbish, making “Tasting Whiskey” a perfect tool for aspiring connoisseurs, whether breaking down geographical distinctions or how different whiskeys age. Plus, totally awesome mash-bill pie charts!
Michael Rietmulder writes about cocktails, beer and nightlife.