Cocktail Books, New and Old

4 cocktail books

If you aren’t aware, we’re in the midst of a craft cocktail boom that’s been going strong for a decade or so. In light of that, there is a deluge of great cocktail books, new and old, that are more readily available than ever. I’ve had the chance to get my hands on several of them lately, so I’m going to review and summarize some of the books that I’m reading right now.

New books: 

The Art of American Whiskey by Noah Rothbaum ($13). As a hardcover horizontally-designed book with lots of color photos, I imagined that AoAW would mostly be a coffee-table book. It certainly is nice to flip through in this way, I discovered AoAW is also a really well-written, well-researched historical book. It’s organized in a very cool way: segmented into 7 “ages” of American Whiskey, each age with history, whiskey labels, and “Cocktails of the Time.”  I was surprised at the thoroughness of AoAW and found it to be both an interesting coffee table book and a great history lesson too. Noah can be found at Liquor Intelligence.

Cocktail Chronicles by Paul Clarke ($15). It was hard not to get choked up reading through Cocktail Chronicles‘ first chapter, “Notes from a Renaissance in Progress,” because it’s true. Clarke quickly charts the near-death of the cocktail in the 70s up to the craft boom of the last decade, and here we are at the present Renaissance. Clarke then dips our toe in a handy-yet-formulaic cocktail technique section (later completed in the “Bottles, Tools and Tips” chapter), and onto the core of the book. Chronicles is primarily a history book, so sections are divided historically (“Not Forgotten”/”Muses and Bridges”/”Staying Power”), with subcategories given to ingredients, bartenders, even locales that fit that description. You’ll find a related, but small, recipe boxes on each page of your journey. This is a unique perspective on cocktail history, as Clarke calls it, a “renaissance in progress.” You can find Paul at Imbibe Magazine and at Cocktail Chronicles (the blog).

Old books:

The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVoto ($12).  Originally published in 1948, The Hour is more of a long, ranting essay than a cocktail book. At just over 100 pages, it might be a comedy piece – DeVoto lists only two alcoholic drinks that are “acceptable”: the Martini and a slug of American whiskey. He curses olives as a garnish and bans just about every other cocktail imaginable: “Remember always that the three abominations are: (1) rum, (2) any other sweet drink, and (3) any mixed drink except one made of gin and dry vermouth in the ration that I have given.” His Martini ration, by the way, is 3.7 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. The Hour is a fun (and funny) book to read, and I think is the point. Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) writes the hilarious intro, in which he references giving his 18-month-old a sip of his Martini.

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury ($25). Also from 1948 and published as a “replica” from Cocktail Kingdom, Fine Art… is really a love letter to cocktails. Embury is not a bartender, but a home cocktail enthusiast, and this tome is the most cocktail-heavy of this group. Throughout, Embury paints a picture of what makes cocktails great, beginning as many cocktail books do with proper tools, liquors, ice, setup, and measurement, all the way through through 300+ pages of cocktail recipes. As I read Fine Art… I realized it’s been echoed in many cocktail books published more recently. I feel that if you asked a friendly, passionate, experienced home bartender to explain what’s great about cocktails, this very book would be the answer. This is a perfect starter cocktail book.

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