Book Review: ReMixology: Classic Cocktails, Reconsidered and Reinvented

remoxology

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.

B+ / $13 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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

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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.

A- / $14 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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.

B+ / $19 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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?

C- / $16 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: The Manhattan Cocktail

41enOr6ZSRL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters. Sub in dry vermouth for some of the sweet if you want to be fancy. As most of us know it, this is the Manhattan Cocktail, one of the absolute classics of the industry and the base upon which legions of other drinks have been built.

To Albert W. A. Schmid, the above is just a starting point. There are dozens — perhaps a hundred — variations on the Manhattan, along with reams of history of the drink that require consideration from the cocktail completist.

This tiny tome, pocket-sized in dimensions and under 100 pages in length — looks like something you could digest in full during a slightly above-average visit to the bathroom. But the truth is Schmid has crafted a barside companion that Manhattan fans will want to keep near their bar setup for the long haul. The history of the drink aside, the variations that Schmid has turned up are fascinating and sometimes mouth-watering. Got celery bitters, absinthe, and fernet? Get ready to have some fun spinning your Manhattans in different directions.

At a mere 12 bucks, it’s hard not to recommend this book as a fun addition to a serious barman’s shelf or even as a little gift to the kind host who constantly lets you raid his bar.

A- / $12 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Cookies & Beer

51skyGuw28L._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Cookies and beer? Yes, beer. And cookies!

Jonathan Bender says they go great together, and who are we to argue?

The title aside, this slim cookbook is really all about the cookies. Bender offers suggestions for pairing beer with each of the sweet treats he teaches you to make (including key sidebars, like pairing beers with Girl Scout Cookies), so don’t come in thinking you’ve got a homebrew manual in your hands. In fact, only a small handful of recipes in the back even include beer in the ingredient list, so for the most part, this is standard baking (with lots of familiar cookies), with booze relegated to the side.

There’s no cookie I’ve ever met that I didn’t like, and the recipes in Cookies & Beer certainly look delightful — even the section on savory cookies has my tastebuds going. There’s lots of great photography here to get you hungry, too.

The only trouble, as is often the case with novelty cookbooks, is the length. 122 pages seems like a lot of cookies, but it’s a wee little book that, most likely, you’ll either return to frequently to guide you in making a few favorites over and over, or exhaust quickly as you head to greener pastures.

B / $16 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]