Cocktail party? OK. Craft cocktail party? Even better!
Julie Reiner’s big, hardbound book takes the now-popular seasonal approach to organization, dropping a couple dozen recipes into each of the four seasons. Reiner, owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn and the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, keeps things fairly simple — most of the cocktails only have three to five ingredients — but also very fresh. Most of the recipes have fresh produce, herbs, or juice in them, particularly those tied to the warmer months. The overall selection comprises both classics and freshened-up spins on them. It’s a concisely curated collection without a lot of fluff in it — which is both a good and a bad thing.
The Craft Cocktail Party features some full-color photography, but with a book like this — almost designed for the coffee table instead of the bookshelf — even more would be a nice feature. At the kind of craft cocktail soiree Reiner describes, I definitely want to see what I’m drinking before I run to the store for turbinado sugar.
B+ / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
A cynical beer drinker would say the concept of the new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What do Drink and When to Drink It is absurd. Beer should be drunk every day, amirite beer guys?
Well, author Randy Mosher of course has more sophisticated aims here: Pairing certain beer styles to certain seasons, holidays, festivals, and other occasions. Now this isn’t rocket science, really. You drink lighter beers in the summer on the beach and darker ones in the winter by the fire. And the only time you’d think of drinking a pumpkin beer is on Thanksgiving.
Well, not so fast, as Mosher reminds you that traditions and local customs may compel some surprising consumption. Black IPA for Easter dinner? Who knew?
Mosher’s got lots of general info about beer styles, production, glassware, and even pouring methods — and lots of color pictures to keep this all breezy and fun. This is also the first book I have seen that publicly called out the long-debunked “tongue map” as inaccurate and replaced it with more modern science. (It’s amazing how many people continue to hold on to this nutty idea that you only taste salt on the sides of your tongue and sweetness on the tip.)
Overall, this is a quick read that will make you instantly ready for a brew. Worth it for the putting all the information about all the “beer weeks” around the country in one place alone.
B+ / $11 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans: Authentic Vintage Cocktails from A to Z is a cocktail book that needs significant introduction to be understood. Written in the 1920s by two New Orleans suffragettes, Olive Leonhardt and Hilda Hammond, the manuscript was recently unearthed by Gay Leonhardt, a descendant of Olive’s.
The book is tied to the alphabet, with sections running A to Z, as promised by the title. Each section features an illustration themed to each letter (drawn by Olive), a similarly letter-centric poem (written by Hilda), and cocktail recipes of the era also alphabetically tied. As there are only so many letters in the alphabet, this makes for quite a slim tome, but it’s fun to read nonetheless.
How much you enjoy the book will be determined by your taste for poetry and for (very) classic cocktails. Drinks in the 1920s tended toward the simple (Black Jack: 1/2 creme de menthe, 1/2 cognac) and the tongue in cheek (the Hydropot Exterminator includes arsenic). And any reader who sends us a writeup and photo of them drinking the Slow Motion (1 pint moonshine, 1/2 pint cream, 2 egg whites, 1 tbsp Grenadine, plus seltzer) will earn my undying admiration.
Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans is unlikely to become a significant encyclopedia to aid in your imbibing, but it is a fun look into the zeitgeist of the time — all devil may care good times despite the yoke of Prohibition and the nation’s Depression. Nothing can keep a party girl down, I guess!
B+ / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]
Hey Matthew Latkiewicz — if that is your real name! — who are you to tell me I suck at drinking! Oh, you write for McSweeney’s. I suppose that gives you some McThority on the topic of the proper treatment of hooch and hooch consumption.
Kidding around aside — which is hard to do when discussing You Suck at Drinking — what we have here is a fully tongue-in-cheek, breezy little tome on the more social aspects of alcohol consumption. Latkiewicz has crafted a slim and satrical volume that addresses such key alcoholic issues as how to drink at your holiday party, how to deal with a hangover, how to drink when you’re a college student, and how to sneak drinks in public. You know, the important stuff in life.
Latkiewicz is a good writer and an opinionated one at that. He doesn’t pull punches, and he’ll call you out if your favorite tipple is shit. To say much more about the tome would be to give away too many of its jokes, but I will say that the man even puts his email address and phone number in the book, which is a ballsy thing to do when your intended audience is basically a bunch of borderline alcoholics.
Give it a spin. It’s perfect bathroom reading, if nothing else.
B+ / $11 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]
If you’re a rank novice when it comes to wine — I mean, you really know absolutely nothing — then Jackson Meyer’s primer, The Book of Wine, is as good a place as any to start — short of dropping in on your local wine bar, that is.
In a breezy 220 pages, Meyer covers, as the subtitle states, “an introduction to choosing, serving, and drinking the best wines.” Best may be overstating things a bit. The book devotes more space to South Africa than to Napa and Sonoma (which are lumped together in a spare section in the “Wine Regions” chapter).
Meyer dutifully covers the basics — grape varietals, identifying flaws, what to do with a wine list (and I don’t much agree with his advice here) — enough to get you at least to a $600 question in a Jeopardy! wine category. Less can be said for his often bizarre “recommended wines” which accompany the section explaining each major varietal. I’m unclear how recommending a bottle of Penfolds Grange 1998 (1998!) is going to benefit the novice wine drinker other than make him look like a rube at his local wine merchant.
C- / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]
Lew Bryson must be some kind of spirit whisperer. He knows seemingly everything about the whiskey world, and — more importantly — he has managed to distill (ha!) it down to fully readable, understandable essentials with this impressive tome, Tasting Whiskey.
As the title implies, Bryson is here to be your insider guide to this often confusing and contradictory world, but through jargon-free writing, intuitive organization, and — critically — a plethora of explanatory illustrations and infographics, he lays the business bare for you.
Bear in mind: This is not a “Dummies” class book. Tasting Whiskey literally has everything you need to know about how whiskey is produced in its 250 some pages. No, everything. Want to understand where your whiskey draws its flavors from — grain, barrel, or something else? Bryson explains. How about the locations of the key Japanese distilleries? The various names for the parts of a whiskey barrel? All here. All laid out in charts, maps, and diagrams.
I consider myself a whiskey expert, but devoured Bryson’s book like it was a new Four Roses Limited Edition release. Drink it up, folks.
A / $15 / [BUY IT HERE]
Jesus, Matt Teacher really likes gin. His new hardcover, The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of of the New Gin Revival, crams nothing but juniper-scented spirits into its 350-plus pages.
Rest assured, there’s not really 350 pages of material to be revealed in the giniverse. The Spirit of Gin is breezy and light, with lots of white space and plenty of pictures.
The book begins with the dutiful history of gin and some discussion of various gin distillation methods. Cocktail recipes old and new are interspersed with profiles of gin-focused bars around the world (but priumarily in the U.S.) — good old-fashioned “gin joints,” all of ’em. A full third of the book is devoted to an “incomplete” catalog of modern gins, a simple, alphabetical guide to some of the noteworthy craft gin brands out there. If your tastes run more to Caorunn than Tanqueray, it’s a section you’ll enjoy perusing to pick up a few new suggested bottles.
The “Miscellany” in the subtitle is right. The Spirit of Gin is built like an encyclopedia but reads more like a coffee table book. Incredibly scattered but interesting, it’s the kind of book that is more fun when you simply open it to a random page than when you try to read it from front to back. Hey, who wants a Tom Collins?
B / $20 / [BUY IT HERE]
If you liked Alt Whiskeys, you’ll love Fire Water, Darek Bell’s follow-up tome on the intricacies of craft distilling.
While Alt Whiskeys focused mainly on the impact of using different grains in your whiskey mash, here the Corsair Distillery founder takes a look at how smoke can impact craft whiskeymaking. This isn’t just a lark. For this book, Bell experimented with over 80 different fuel sources to see how different types of woods, roots, and herbs would impact the finished, distilled product. Curious how avocado wood might make your whiskey taste? It’s in here. Persimmon tree wood? Cloves? Mugwort? Yohimbe? Chopped up, used bourbon barrels? All in here.
As with Alt Whiskeys, the actual utility of this book is extremely limited, as home distillation is totally illegal. That said, it’s still a ton of fun to flip through for kicks. If you’re a fan of peaty Scotch, Fire Water hints at the tantalizing promise that smoked American whiskeys might be arriving in short order. (In fact, some are already here, like Lost Spirits Leviathan, Corsair’s own Triple Smoke, and High West Campfire.)
And if you decide to go ahead and make your own smoky moonshine in your backyard, be sure to let us know what kind of wood you decided to use.
A- / $27 / [BUY IT HERE]
Wired editor Adam Rogers is an acquaintance and a colleague (he was my wingman at the HP50 tasting a few weeks back), so it’s not totally fair for me to rave about his new book, Proof: The Science of Booze. I will anyway. If, like myself, you’re as interested in the chemistry and biology of beer, wine, and spirits as you are the way they taste, this book’s for you.
Rogers’ tome is part a historical work that discusses the origins of booze, part newsy analysis of how far science is pushing the industry we know and love so much in these parts. Proof is split up into a small number of logical, topically-centered chapters — sugar, distillation, hangovers, and so on — each a breezy journey to the past and back to the present. Rogers will take you back to the discovery of yeast — and then to a lab that is experimenting with how different yeast strains impact the taste of beer that is fermented with them.
It’s easy to get lost in some pretty obtuse weeds in science journalism, but Rogers is canny enough to keep things easily readable for a layperson (his impromptu “hangover cure” experiment is appropriately hysterical) while ensuring the book is rigorous enough for the experts. Well done.
A / $16 / [BUY IT HERE]
At $6 and a scant 25 pages in length — and not even an official “Dummies” title — it’s difficult to give this one a full-throated endorsement, especially after just reading Heather Greene’s excellent guide on the same subject matter. Jake Olson does indeed cover the basics of whiskey tasting, with a very direct, almost dry, writing style. Brief entries on the history of whiskey, the process by which it is made, and the different types available make up the majority of the book. A few basic recipes for essential cocktails are offered. That’s really about it, folks. I believe the Wikipedia entry on whiskey is more expansive and informative. And free of charge.
The challenge was not to power through Olson’s primitive report, but to take this pamphlet as a legitimate body of work. Much more content could have been offered, and it certainly would have helped to have a decent copy editor; if only because it’s spelled “Johnnie” and not “Jonny” Walker. Sometimes it’s better not to self-publish. Sometimes it’s better to just leave things on a hard drive to send as a Word document to friends. This would be one of those times.
$6 / F / [BUY IT HERE?]