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Book Reviews Books

Book Review: Vince Keenan’s “Down the Hatch”

Until he was in his twenties, crime writer Vince Keenan knew
as much about cocktails as your maiden aunt Betty. You know, the one who also
happens to be a nun. But one day Keenan’s wife — clearly the brains of the
outfit — convinced him to try a real drink. That was the beginning of what was
to become a minor, but magnificent, obsession.

Keenan became a regular at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle,
Washington, where star bartenders like Erik Hakkinen and Murray Stenson plied
their trade. Keenan was an eager learner and a quick study, and he watched
everything the bartenders did, and then went home and tried it out on his own.

Down the Hatch
tells the stories of the cocktails Keenan learned, both the histories and facts
of the drinks themselves, along with his own encounters with them. Naturally,
he also includes the recipes for the drinks so that you can make them at home.
He features the best-known classic cocktails, ranging from the Margarita and
Manhattan, to the Tom Collins and Jack Rose. Unlike the recipes one finds
through Google searches, these are legitimate, tried-and-true recipes that you
can safely follow to create delicious drinks.

Keenan isn’t a bartender or professional spirits taster.
He’s a writer, and not surprisingly, Down
the Hatch
is a well written book. Kennan is a guy like you or me who spent
the time learning how to make cocktails, and now he’s sharing that knowledge
with us. He’s an amateur in the original sense of the word: someone who does
something out of love.

Part recipe book, part history lesson, and part memoir, Down the Hatch makes for a fun,
informative, and very useful read. Be warned, however: just flipping through it
is liable to make you thirsty. If you’re settling in for the long haul — and
you definitely should — you might make sure you have a drink close at hand.

Down the Hatch

Categories
Book Reviews Drink Recipes Whiskey

Book Review: “The American Cocktail” by The Editors of Imbibe Magazine

Some cocktail books are intended for the casual mixologist, some are intended for the advanced user, and some are a mixture of both. Jim Meehan's The PDT Cocktail Book is an excellent example of the last category, as it's accessible to the inexperienced, yet valuable to the pro as well.

The American Cocktail, a new book put together by the editors of Imbibe Magazine, is definitely in the middle category. Although a novice cocktail fan would probably enjoy flipping through it, the recipes are really intended for those seeking a higher level of mixology.

When putting together this book, the editors did something very smart: they polled 50 of the best bartenders around the country, those men and women who are really dedicated to the craft of high-end cocktails, and asked them to submit a recipe.

The results are fascinating and unique, with a strong emphasis on bold flavors, local ingredients, and drinks that truly capture the essence of the bar/restaurant where they are served. This is cutting-edge mixology that is still, for the most part, accessible.

True, many of the recipes aren't going to be things that you can easily whip up at home. Several of them call for bespoke ingredients, complicated preparations, or obscure spirits, but by no means all of them. Here's an easy recipe that I tried, which made a delicious drink.

 

Dixie Cup

by Timothy Victor Faulkner, Sauced (Atlanta)

Ingredients:

2 oz Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
1 1/2 oz Red Rock Ginger Ale (or other Spicy Ginger Ale)
1/2 oz Sugarcane Syrup

Combine the bourbon, ginger ale, and syrup in an ice-filled mixing glass and stir gently. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Rub a lime twist around the rim of the glass before dropping it into the cocktail. 

 

Dixie
As you can see in the photo, I used Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Reed's Extra Ginger Brew. My, my, this is one tasty drink.

Several of the bartenders I admire have drinks featured here, including Todd Thrasher from PX (Alexandria, VA), Jim Meehan from PDT (New York), Robert Heugel from Anvil (Houston), and Jeffrey Morgenthaler from Clyde Common (Portland). Having recipes from such experts makes this collection all the more valuable.

Readers looking for an introduction to cocktails or a list of simple recipes won't find much joy in The American Cocktail. But more experienced mixologists — or those who want to up their game a little — should definitely give this a look.

Categories
Book Reviews Drink Recipes Mixology

Book Review: “The PDT Cocktail Book” by Jim Meehan

A lot of cocktail books are published every year, some of them containing thousands of recipes, some of them focusing on only a few dozen. Many of these books aren't especially useful, presenting recipes chosen with little care or attention to detail. With books like that, it's caveat emptor and bibitor.

Not so with Jim Meehan's PDT Cocktail Book, an essential volume from one of the cocktail world's brightest stars. Meehan is the manager of PDT, one of New York's most celebrated cocktail bars. Prior to that he worked under Audrey Sanders at Pegu Club. His credentials are impeccable.

As soon as you pick it up, you know this is a quality book; substantial and well bound, with thick glossy paper. The illustrations (by Chris Gall) are bright, colorful, whimsical and eye-catching.

The PDT Cocktail Book shares Meehan's advice on designing a bar, stocking spirits and choosing the right ingredients and glassware, along with his tips and techniques for properly mixing drinks. A novice mixologist can pick up this book and gain a solid introduction to the subject, even if they have little or no knowledge to begin with. But the experienced bartender will also find much to learn from here.

The heart of The PDT Cocktail Book is, of course, the drinks. It contains over 300 recipes: about half of them original drinks served at PDT, along with many classic cocktails, plus some new suggestions from friends and colleagues. This isn't a hodgepodge of random recipes either. These are hand-picked and tested; the real drinks as served in a world-class bar.

I've tried several already. Here is one that I recently enjoyed — a crisp, refreshing, lemony drink that Meehan created in the Fall of 2008. The apple flavor makes it ideal for this season.

 

Johnny Apple Collins

1.5 oz Maker's Mark Bourbon
.75 oz Schönauer Apple Schnapps
.75 oz Lemon Juice
 2 dashes The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice.

Top with 2 oz. Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Soda

Garnish with a lemon twist.

 

The ingredients and instructions for each drink are clearly spelled out. But Meehan goes one step further, including (where possible) the provenance of the drink, giving credit to the person who invented it. As such, The PDT Cocktail Book represents a valuable volume of cocktail history, helping those who are interested to trace the origins of various cocktails. (Along those lines, it also contains an excellent bibliography.)

Another interesting thing Meehan does is recommend specific brands of spirits for all the recipes. Thus we see that he makes his gin and tonics with Tanqueray, his Martinis with Plymouth, and his Aviations with Beefeater. These aren't hard and fast rules; they're simply guidelines, telling us how they make the drinks at PDT. They represent a starting point for building the flavor profile of the drink. You can (and should) try combinations of your own.

(For example, when making the drink above, I lacked both Schönauer Apple Schnapps and Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Soda. I substituted Berentzen Apfel Liqueur and 7-Up, respectively. My version tastes different, but it's still very good.)

Meehan's book will appeal most to those who already have an interest in and facility with mixology. Any bartender would be strongly urged to buy this right away. But even the amateur will enjoy this beautiful book.

If you have any interest in drinking well, you will appreciate thumbing through it. There are so many interesting ideas for ways of combining flavors here. It also teaches a lot about spirits and how to use them. If you don't have the ingredients to make the drinks at home, copy the recipes down and take them to your favorite bartender and let him/her mix them for you.

The PDT Cocktail Book joins Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology and Dale Degroff's The Craft of the Cocktail as the indispensable monographs on modern cocktails and spirits. It belongs on every cocktail lover's shelf.

Categories
Book Reviews Drink Recipes Mixology Rum

Book Review: “101 Mojitos” by Kim Haasarud

When I picked up this book, my first reaction was, "How can there be 101 recipes for Mojitos? That's insane." But then I noticed the subtitle: "and other muddled drinks." Okay, that makes sense. Muddled drinks are very popular these days, and there's an endless variety of them.

Muddling is a technique of combining ingredients in a glass by pressing down on them with a muddler, a type of pestle that's usually shaped like a baseball bat. (I just have a plain wood one, but here's a fancy metal one.)

Watch a video of Robert Hess muddling mint for a Mojito (starts about 2:00).

Watch a video of Chris McMillian muddling limes for a Caipirinha (starts about 1:45).

Author Kim Hassarud is the founder of Liquid Architecture, a beverage consulting firm, and has created signature cocktails for several top venues and brands. So she knows what she's talking about. Her recipes are mostly straightforward, without a lot of odd ingredients or preparations. She does use wine in several of her cocktails, though — a trend I haven't gotten behind.

She also uses a lot of fresh fruit in her drinks, which is exactly what you'd expect for muddled drinks. She also includes nuts, herbs, cucumbers, etc. for some potentially interesting flavor combinations. (I didn't try any of the more exotic ones, as I didn't have the ingredients on hand. But I'm filing them away for future reference.)

Here is a slightly modified version of her recipe for making a Mojito.

 

The Perfect Mojito
Adapted from a recipe by Kim Hassarud 

2 oz Premium White Rum
10 Mint Leaves (approx.)
1 oz Simple Syrup (1:1)
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice 
Soda Water

In the bottom of a highball glass, muddle the mint leaves with the lime juice and simple syrup. (Don't muddle too hard!) Add the rum. Fill the glass most of the way with ice and stir well. Top with soda water. Garnish with a mint sprig.

 

This is more rum than many bartenders use to make a Mojito, so if you don't want it quite so strong you can cut back to 1 1/2 ounces. For the type of rum, she recommends 10 Cane, Bacardi Superior or Cruzan. I'm not a fan of Bacardi, but the other two are good. I'd also recommend Flor de Cana Extra Dry or Ron Matusalem Plantino. Pretty much any Cuban-style white rum will work for this.

Muddled drinks have become something of a bane to most bartenders — they take a long time to make and tend to be messy. And don't even think about ordering a muddled drink at a place like TGI Fridays. You'll probably get nothing more than a blank stare in return. (And if they do try to make you a Mojito or Caipirinha, who knows what you'll get.)

The good news is, making muddled drinks at home isn't difficult. In fact, it's kind of fun. With a book like 101 Mojitos, a muddler*, and a little bit of liquor, you'll soon be off and muddling!

*Technically you don't even need a muddler: the end of a wooden spoon or the handle of a rolling pin will work in a pinch.

Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Little Pink Book of Cocktails” by Madeline Teachett

A somewhat curious book to review today: The Little Pink Book of Cocktails, an oh-so-pretty-in-pink cocktail recipe book masquerading as a planner. I realize I'm not the intended audience for this book — presumably the publisher is going after a slightly more feminine demographic. However, I do like my share of "girlie" drinks, and the book is definitely cute, colorful and nicely designed.

But how are the recipes?

On that score, The Little Pink Book of Cocktails comes up short. Sorry to say, but this seems like a cocktail book put together by someone who doesn't know a whole lot about cocktails.

It's not that the recipes are bad. Well, some of them are bad. The Tom Collins recipe is to mix gin with Tom Collins mix. (Bleh.) The recipe for the Piña Colada calls for blending together rum and, you guessed it, Piña Colada mix. (Double bleh.)

Most of the recipes are okay, but there's an odd selection of them, with too many simple highballs thrown together with too many complex cocktails calling for unusual ingredients.

So we have pages devoted to the Screwdriver (vodka & OJ), Cape Cod (vodka & cranberry), Greyhound (vodka & grapefruit), Godmother (vodka & Amaretto), Vodka Gimlet (vodka & lime juice, which is not how you make a Gimlet), etc. And there aren't that many recipes in the book, so these simple variations take up a lot of the content.

Contrasting that are some very interesting recipes from noted bars like PDT, Death and Company and The Bourgeois Pig. I experimented with some of these and there are a couple of great recipes. They're almost enough to make the book worth recommending. (I especially like The Ramble, an elegant mixture of Plymouth Gin, lemon juice, and raspberry simple syrup.)

The problem is that most of the proprietary recipes call for ingredients (Sloe Gin, St. Germain Liqueur, Lillet Blanc, Chartreuse, Pear Eau-de-Vie) that most people don't have on hand. Even worse, some of them call for the home bartender to make her own infusions and spiced rum.

I could forgive all of those things. I could forgive calling Cachaça a rum. I could forgive instructing people to make a Martini with "2 drops" of vermouth. I could forgive the useless recipe for a Mai Tai that calls for using a type of rum that costs $50,000. I could even forgive the fact that her recipe for the Cosmopolitan stinks. (You'd think a book like this would at least get that one right.)

I could forgive everything, if only it weren't for the inclusion of recipes for drinks called "Blue Veiny Monster," "Panty Dropper," "Buttery Nipple #1," "Red-Headed Slut," and "Pink Vagina." For that, there is simply no forgiveness.

Categories
Book Reviews Drink Recipes Mixology

Book Review: “Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails” by Kester Thompson

I love reading books filled with cocktail recipes. Some of them are fun because they're so bad — every other drink calls for sweet and sour or pina colada mix or some other vile bottled substance. But the good ones are good because they contain real recipes for delicious drinks that a person with a little knowledge and enthusiasm can make at home.

Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails, I'm happy to say, falls into the latter category. Kester Thompson is a brand ambassador for an Israeli winery and a consultant to bars and restaurants. It's clear from the recipes and commentary in this book that he's a man who knows his stuff.

As the title would suggest, Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails is composed mostly of recipes. There's a little bit about bar tools and technique, but not much. The book also isn't heavy on photographs, so if you want to see pictures of all the drinks, this isn't the book for you. (Note: the book does have some photos. But not of each drink.)

There are recipes for a hundred or so cocktails, including all the classics (Martini, Manhattan, Daiquiri), along with some nice Tiki drinks (Zombie, Planter's Punch), and even a handful of drinks using cachaça, which was nice to see. (I still haven't mixed up any cachaça drinks, but I'll get around to it one of these days.) He also has a solid recipe for the Mai Tai, a drink that most people butcher.

I didn't find anything that was new or exciting in this. But to be fair, I've read a lot of cocktail books. For those with less experience, there are plenty of good recipes contained in Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails that you will enjoy making.

Here's one I whipped up last night:

Painkiller

Shake with ice:

2 oz Dark or Navy Rum
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz Coconut Cream

Strain into a collins glass filled with crushed ice. Sprinkle grated nutmeg on top. 

A solid recipe for a delicious drink. I did change it a little, upping the rum a touch and using two different types of rum in order to get a more complex flavor. I also added a little cinnamon on top along with the nutmeg. But as written, this is an excellent cocktail.

The main drawback to this book is its size and format. This isn't a book that you want sitting on your counter so you can flip through it and mix up a cocktail. It's too big and too nice for that. This is a book that sits on your shelf. So if you want to make one of the recipes, you're probably going to have to copy it down first.

Other than that, this is a useful, well made volume that deserves a place in your collection.

Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Cocktailian Chronicles: Life with the Professor” by Gary Regan

Gary Regan (aka Gaz) is one of the world's most acclaimed cocktail craftsmen. (I'd call him an artist, but he might be offended — he's a working bartender, after all, not given much to pretensions.) Through his books like The Joy of Mixology and The Bartenders Bible, Regan has educated scores of bartenders and cocktailians, both amateur and professional alike. 

The Cocktailian Chronicles: Life with the Professor is, despite its title, not a book about Gaz and I cohabitating. It is instead a collection of his columns that originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, supplemented with notes and afterthoughts. They are told from the point-of-view of "The Professor" (not me), a bartender at a cozy (fictional) tavern in San Francisco who bares a slight resemblance to Regan himself.

Each of the columns is organized around a specific cocktail (e.g., the Floridita Daiquiri, the Aviation) and tells a story or anecdote about the drink, featuring a cast of quirky characters drawn from Gaz's own life. The columns all end with a recipe for the drink, along with the author's "A Final Word at The End of the Bar," a behind-the-scenes note about the reality behind the column, and sometimes an updated recipe or two.

The Cocktailian Chronicles is a fun, witty read that also gives some useful advice about cocktails and spirits, along with some excellent recipes that you can try out yourself. (Or request on your next trip to the local saloon.) It's one of the most entertaining books I've read in quite a while.

There are few people in the world of cocktails as knowledgeable as Regan, and fewer still that can write with his panache. Here's hoping that The Professor returns for another go-around soon.

Note: The link above is to the Kindle version of the book. There is also a paperback edition available, although it's rather expensive. Even if you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free app that will allow you to read Kindle books on your computer, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.