Book Review: Distilled Stories


There’s a certain segment of the population — Californians interested in craft distilling — that will find Distilled Stories particularly appealing. That isn’t to say the rest of you won’t dig the book, but there’s a certain down-the-rabbit-hole inquisitiveness that’s required of anyone wishing to drill down into this somewhat obscure world.

Distilled Stories takes the form of vignettes presented by some 20 different distillers (or groups of distillers), each telling the tale of how their company came to be. I know many of these people personally and some I consider friends, and yet I didn’t know all the ins and outs of how their operations came into being. In fact, there are companies in this book I’d never even heard of.

Some of these stories are more interesting than others, and the writing quality varies widely. (The book was written by a large number of contributors, and individual pieces are not bylined.) I don’t want to play favorites but definitely take a particularly close at the stories of Adam Spiegel and the Karakasevic clan.


Book Review: Quench Your Own Thirst


Ever wonder how Jim Koch got Samuel Adams started? Now you can, in Koch’s memoir that is part business story, part insider guide to the booze trade. It’s a relatively straightforward work as Koch meanders from his first act as a management consultant to the founder of a scrappy brewing operation to the CEO of the largest independent brewing company in the U.S.

It’s all quite linear, starting in 1983 and ending in the near present. The book really flies by: Some chapters are just a three or four pages long. Some aren’t even a full page. All the while, Koch focuses on his mantras about doing what you believe in, focusing on quality, the value of experimentation, and making do with as little as possible. A lot of it is standard business/management/go-get-’em sentiments, but all of it is still good advice.

Throughout, Koch offers anecdotes about what he knows about beermaking, plus gossip about the beer industry at large. Did you know that German beers exported to the U.S. had sugar in them (at least at once)? That Sam Adams could have ended up with the name of Sacred Cod?

If you’re a businessperson or aspiring entrepreneur who enjoys beer, Quench Your Own Thirst will be right up your alley. Hell, you don’t even need to like beer that much — the stories from the trenches are fairly universal. If, however, you’re a beer fan looking to better understand what goes into what it is you’re drinking, I would probably suggest a more general tome on the topic over Koch’s memoir.


Book Review: ReMixology: Classic Cocktails, Reconsidered and Reinvented


The tagline for ReMixology, by Michael Turback and Julia Hastings-Black, is a bit of a misnomer. This is a recipe book that doesn’t reinvent classic cocktails so much as it uses them as inspiration for updated drinks. The standards are all presented as exactly that — the margarita, Manhattan, and other classics are all described with their traditional ingredients intact.

What ReMixology does from there is take you on some side streets and other tangents to offer some unique spins on these classics (though the originals themselves are not “reconsidered”).

It’s these side streets where ReMixology spends most of its time, with little fanfare or throat-clearing, a common issue with many a cocktail book that does nothing but idly fill pages with the tired retelling of the “history of the cocktail.” Nay, ReMixology gets right to the chase, filling page after page with recipes — though few are presented with photographs.

Some of these cocktails seem like instant winners, like the toddy-like Deer Hunter (chai tea, bourbon, cardamaro, cream sherry, and maple syrup). As for cocktails like the Bananas Foster Martini (vanilla vodka, spiced rum, creme de banana, butterscotch schnapps, and cream)? I’m willing to give it a go, though I’m nervous just reading the description.

Most of these cocktails are borrowed from bars and restaurants around the world (with credit given in the text), so even if you don’t feel like making them yourself, you’ll know where to go try the original.


Classic Book Reviews: The Home Bartender’s Guide and Song Book, American Bar, and Louis’ Mixed Drinks

song book

Old timey cocktails are back, and so are old timey cocktail books. While cheap paperback reprints have been rampant in recent years, now these out of print tomes (originals can run up to $700 on Amazon) are being remade with fancy hardcovers and all the original detailing intact.

Here’s a look at three, all recently republished by Cocktail Kingdom.

Originally published in 1930 (in the thick of Prohibition, it should be noted), The Home Bartender’s Guide and Song Book is a true classic of the home bar, one which melds cocktail recipes with, yes, drinking songs. As a look back in time, it’s fun to marvel at both the archaic recipes (martinis are made with bitters!) and the impressive drinking shanties, which presumably you were meant to sing when at a cocktail party:

Host, please do your duty,
Give us each a drink,
Just a little drink,
Just a little drink,
Just a little drink or two.

What tune you were supposed to sing these songs to is not revealed, but it probably doesn’t matter when you’ve had a Shameless Hussy, White Satin Cocktail, or Shaluta! cocktail or three. (To make a Shaluta!: One part “Dago Red,” one part gin, one part lemon juice, “handle any way you like.”) Mmmm.

It’s doubtful anyone will actually make cocktails using this book, but it’s a fun trip to the past nonetheless, complete with period typefaces, line drawings, and, of course, ample — yet subtle — racism. B+ / $28

Louis’ Mixed Drinks, originally published in 1906, was ahead of its time in offering recipes for bottled cocktails (pre-mix and keep ’em on hand!). Other cocktails included are era-appropriate, including 12-layer Pousse Cafes and plenty of fizzes, flips, and cobblers. Author Louis Muckensturm also was a bit of a wine fan, and if you need overviews of vintages from 1880 to 1905, he’s got you covered. This book is a bit less enchanting than The Home Bartender’s Guide (and harder to read owing to the elongated, narrow format) but, as with all of these tomes, a fun glance backwards at, you know, simpler times. B / $28

American Bar, from 1904,  is entirely in French, so you’ll need to bring your translator to bear on this one. No rating / $28

Book Review: The Year of Drinking Adventurously

year of drinknigWriter Jeff Cioletti wants you to put down the Budweiser and the shot of JD. “Drinking adventurously” means exploring the vast array of beverages the world has to offer, and Cioletti guides you through 52 of them in a guidebook that is meant to be consumed one chapter (and type of drink) each week.

Cioletti starts us off with Scotch, exploring the islands in addition to safer Speyside. From there it’s on to bourbon and rye, then quickly into such exotic categoris as baijiu, soju, pulque, and blueberry wine. It’s an adventure indeed: Some of these categories (namely the blueberry wine) I’ve never even encountered myself.

As a primer on the entire world of drinking, some areas (gueuze) are naturally far more adventurous than others (Canadian whisky), but Cioletti ultimately shows himself more interested in taking you on a global trek of alcoholic drink exploration, not just forcing Korean snake wine down your throat. There’s even a chapter on vodka included.

And that’s not a slight. Not every book needs to be a nerd-level deep dive into the rabbit hole of wine, beer, and spirits. So long as you understand going in that you’re not going to learn everything there is to know about Scotch in nine pages of text, this book is definitely worthwhile and often lots of fun, to boot.


Book Review: Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari

51VHrm7ytCL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_Mark Bitterman sure does like bitters, and if you want to learn how to make them, to craft cool cocktails with them, or even cook with them (bittered southern fried chicken, anyone?), this new book is for you.

A true field guide in appearance — softbound with a rubberized cover — the book feels a little backward, flow-wise, I mean. The “field guide” — wherein Bitterman catalogues some 500 bitters and 50 amari, is at the back of the book. Up front is where Bitterman teaches you how to make bitters at home (hint: stock up on Everclear) and craft cocktails and meals with them. Shouldn’t the reader get a solid understanding of bitters before embarking on home production? Minor quibble, but for many readers the analysis of commercial bitters will be the most worthwhile part of the book.

The cocktail recipes in the book are quite a delight, often heavily dosing classic drinks with a big slug of bitters and/or an amaro — frequently to dramatic effect. I may even make that chicken someday, too.

Given the exhaustive amount of content here, what then to make of some curious omissions in the text — such as the appearance of only one form of Chartreuse in the amaro lineup or the absence of Barrel-Aged Peychaud’s Bitters from the field guide? I figure if it’s something I actually have in my bar, Bitterman for damn sure ought to have it on hand.


Book Review: Cocktail Noir

81WLf9Dx3OLNovelty cocktail books are a dime a dozen, but Scott Deitche’s focus on the drinks of private eyes, gangsters, and other “in the shadows” types at least offers the promise of something new — of cocktail stories that we haven’t heard many times before.

Alas, this slim tome unfortunately is a bit of a random walk through the world of noir. What did Al Capone like to drink? Where did gangsters hang out in Dallas, Texas? It’s all here, sort of, in ultra-digestible bite-sized chunks, bouncing from one topic to the next without a whole lot of logic involved.

So much of the book is written in abrupt jags that it’s hard to see what Deitche’s point is with any of this. A few paragraphs on GoodFellas comes across like a drunken friend chatting you up with, “Hey, hey… remember in that movie, when they walk through the restaurant and sit down in the lounge? That was cool.”

Deitche isn’t a cocktail/spirits writer — he mainly covers organized crime — but numerous noir-inspired recipes are included as sidebars, though none are anything you won’t likely have seen before. If you want to figure out how to stock your home bar like a gangster, well, Deitche has you covered there, too. Turns out it looks a lot like the back bar of my local dive. Who knew?