'The New Cocktail Hour' is More Than a Recipe Book
Plus, 6 local bartenders recommend their favorite cocktail books
Tenaya and André Darlington | Photo by Jason Varney
About a week ago, I received a copy of The New Cocktail Hour: The Essential Guide to Handcrafted Drinks and I haven’t been able to put it down. Is it odd to read a recipe book as if it were a novel? Though, to suggest The New Cocktail Hour is just a recipe book would be selling it short. It’s the equivalent of exploring a big house with hidden rooms and compartments, each holding something interesting and unexpected. Woven in with recipes—an impressive collection of 230—are well-placed bits and bobs, like tasting notes on different brands of vermouth, a brief history of World War I cocktails, and a quick explainer on DIY barrel-aging.
The book is written by brother-and-sister team André and Tenaya Darlington, co-authors of the blog Sprig + Spirit. Both got their start as journalists, writing about food and drink. They draw on that expertise in a number of ways: each recipe includes an engaging brief history, tasting notes, suggested food pairings, and, often, an ideal setting in which to enjoy the cocktail (the Alabazam, a nightcap, is “best enjoyed by a roaring fire with a meerschaum pipe in hand”). Not to say other cocktail books don't offer this sort of information, but there’s something enchanting about the Darlingtons’ presentation.
I also appreciated how they structured the book, moving from recipes from the Golden Era of cocktails up through modern classics, like Sam Ross’ Penicillin, and Phil Ward’s Oaxaca Old Fashioned. There are also chapters on seasonal cocktails; glassware, tools and techniques; recipes for tonics, cordials, bitters and such—and that’s not even half of it. Perhaps the best part is that they’ve kept the home cocktail-maker in mind—you don’t need an extensive home bar or a degree in molecular gastronomy to pull off these recipes—but also have plenty of options for folks who prefer adventurous cocktails.
So, now that I’ve found my favorite cocktail book, I thought I’d ask some local cocktail experts about theirs.
Frankie Thaheld, Snake Oil Cocktail Co.
I have three that I would mention. The first would be Boothby's World Drinks and How to Mix Them, which was the first book I owned on the subject of old world mixology. It catalogs concoctions right after the end of Prohibition and separates them by category, which makes it easier for the bartender to interpret styles. The second would be Difford’s Guide, which is a great compendium for modern interpretations of classics and all of the accepted variations, with the bar or bartender given a footnote. The third is more of an anticipated book that I have not yet read, The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual: Secret Recipes and Barroom Tales from Two Belfast Boys Who Conquered the Cocktail World.
Meghan Balser, Seven Grand
My favorite cocktail book is actually a culinary book called The Flavor Bible. It’s the perfect reference for complementary flavor combinations. It's an inspiration for ingredients in cocktails, as well as a muse for experimentation.
Bryan Dietz, Infinium Spirits
The Drunken Botanist. I like how Amy Stewart divides her exploration of plant life into three categories: Plants that can be converted to ethyl alcohol, plants that can flavor a liquor, and plants used for a garnish. She gives you a different way to look at cocktails and the plants that go into them. It’s a great book for bartenders or consumers who want to learn more about what they’re drinking. Once the basic knowledge sinks in, pick it up again and dive deeper into how to put a twist on a classic with just a garnish. Also, besides making syrups and infusions, I love the how-to guide to make pickles or brine olives.
Eric Johnson, Juniper & Ivy
There are some great books out there that I always recommend to people who are trying to learn about cocktails. Some are classic books, such as The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, and The Gentleman's Companion by Charles H. Baker. Even the recently published Death & Co. cocktail book has some up-to-date renditions of classic cocktails for the everyday bartender. Even with magazines such as Imbibe, you can learn a lot these days on what is new and creative in the industry. I typically use The Flavor Bible most consistently for its flavor pairings and ideas. A guy recommended this book to me many years ago and I have to say, it has not stirred me wrong.
Erick Castro, Polite Provisions
Lately I have been head over heels for Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold. It’s a recent book chock-full of information that dispels many of the myths in the bar world and replaces them with cold, hard science. Anyone who is diehard about the details surrounding cocktails should own a copy.
Jesse Ross, Sycamore Den
Imbibe by David Wondrich and Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean by Jeff Berry. Wondrich is kind of the foremost booze and bartending historian. I think anybody that wants to be a bartender and be serious about it should read Imbibe. It just gives so much really cool history and insight into how these classic drinks came to be, and also how cocktails came to be a thing in the first place. Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean is rad because it has a ton of really crazy, obscure tiki recipes in it—a bunch of which had never been published before. It also talks about the less-fun, kind of ugly history of colonization in the Caribbean, but shows how all those various colonial influences shaped the way people drink. There's a lot of history behind these drinks and it's always cool to share it.
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