December 19, 2016 | By Maggie Hoffman
We’ve been in a cocktail book boom for a while now, but 2016 just might be the biggest year yet when it comes to new titles that everyone in the bar industry should read. Some of these books are sources for recipe inspiration and advice on technique, some dig deep into the history of drinking, some demystify an increasingly confusing world of spirits, and some excel at all of the above.
Here are six new essentials to add to your bar shelf and your bedside table.
Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki
If this book from Martin Cate and his wife, Rebecca Cate, had simply shared the finely tuned recipes from their acclaimed San Francisco tiki haven, it would have been enough. (I’d buy this book for the mai tai alone.) And if they’d just offered their game-changing classification system for rum, it would have been worth a hearty recommendation. But this impressive tome also lays out the most fascinating, well-written history of the golden era of exotic cocktails – as well as the generation that rejected tiki and the movement’s recent resurgence – that I’ve ever read.
A Proper Drink
The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World
Robert Simonson’s writing on cocktails in The New York Times is among our nation’s best, so it’s no surprise that his tale of the modern cocktail revival is skillful, thorough and a little bit snarky. He traces 25 years of what, at first, appeared to be a mixed-drink fad, interviewing 200 key players along the way. While it would have been possible to tell a New York City-centric version of this story, Simonson loops in the influences of bartenders across the country as well as around the world. Not everyone comes across as a hero, and the story is all the more entertaining because no one is spared.
Perhaps the most important player in Simonson’s book above (and in the recent cocktail renaissance in real life) was Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey, who died in 2015 of a heart attack. He was just forty-two. “Without Petraske,” Simonson quotes bar owner Matt Piacentini as saying, “today’s bartenders wouldn’t know how to make a proper Manhattan.” Moreover, “Many of us wouldn’t be bartenders, and most of our bars wouldn’t exist.”
Petraske was drafting Regarding Cocktails at the time of his death. While his wife, Georgette Moger-Petraske, explains that it certainly wasn’t finished, she did us all a favor by publishing it anyway. Regarding Cocktails is meant to be a guide for the gracious cocktail party host, but it’s full of gems for professionals too, and quotes to live by, if you’re the sort looking for pithy wisdom about drink garnishes and train travel. The book is filled out with essays and recipe headnotes from the likes of David Wondrich, Sam Ross, Eric Alperin and Theo Lieberman.
The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas
There was a time when knowing your Cynar from your Lucano was adequate, but these days, bar pros should be familiar with more: Segesta and Sibona, Amaro D’Erbe Nina and Foro Amaro Speciale. Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters, describes a broad range of Italian amari, aperitivo bitters, fernets, plus bittersweet liqueurs from around the world in this new guide, then shares enticingly bracing cocktail recipes from bars across the country. Since amari offer complex flavor in every bottle, many of the drinks are remarkably simple to make – like the Brunch Box, which pairs Montenegro with fresh grapefruit juice and lager; and the Ice-Berg, a frozen margarita variation made with tequila, orgeat, lemon and Underberg, garnished with the adorable empty bottle.
1210 More Very Good Cocktails
A Renaissance Compendium
There are many books that retread the familiar territory of classic cocktails to make at home, and surprisingly few that give an accurate picture of what America’s best bartenders are serving today. This book, the second by Stew Ellington, is decidedly not pretty, but it makes up for clunky design with a treasure trove of recipes for every taste. Indexes by season, style and classical inspiration help you find what you’re looking for, or go by ingredient (there are seven drinks with balsamic vinegar, 12 with Salers and 24 with salt.).
The Canon Cocktail Book
Recipes from the Award-Winning Bar
Most drink books are aimed at consumers: folks who want to make a bar’s signature cocktails in their own kitchens. But Jamie Boudreau and James O. Fraioli have advice for those in the industry too, dedicating a section to tips for those opening a new spot. They flag things to keep in mind when choosing a bar name and location, and share notes on designing a bar’s workspace, securing insurance and keeping your staff happy. They get into drink technique, too, discussing equipment and methods for carbonating bottled cocktails and sharing their “golden ratio” for off-the-cuff, choose-your-spirit drinks. They offer a method for aging cocktails for ideal interaction with oxygen and illustrate how to use ingredients like ascorbic acid to offset the sweetness of liqueurs, without making a cocktail taste citrusy.