Book Review: The Canon Cocktail Book

Canon is a fun and well-stocked bar in Seattle — in fact, it lays claim to having the largest collection of spirits in the western hemisphere, and checking out the shelves that line the walls of the place, it’s hard to dispute that. Now, proprietor Jamie Boudreau, with James Fraioli, attempt to codify all the fine work they’re doing therein.

The cocktails in the thick Canon Cocktail Book are avant garde and often complicated. You will need to buy bloomed gelatin to make honey foam, infuse Scotch with chamomile tea, and even obtain an ounce of black truffles to dump into Cognac for one incredibly luxe cocktail. Many cocktails call for six or more ingredients. The Zombie recipe asks for a total of 30 when it is all said and done. One of those ingredients is calf’s brains — no, really!

It’s safe to say you won’t find another cocktail book quite like Canon on the market, but you won’t find a bar quite like Canon anywhere else, either. Yeah, Boudreau has some favorites that he uses a bit too often — Averna, absinthe, and Scotch among them — but even if your tastes don’t run in that direction, there’s plenty to engage with in this book, even if it’s just aspirational. Carbonated and barrel-aged cocktails both get their own sections, if you want to get really out there with your home mixology.

One of the more fun parts of the book isn’t about cocktails at all — it’s about 50 pages at the front of the book that outline what it’s like to own and run a bar. Anyone who’s even considering starting up their own watering hole — and who among us hasn’t? — needs to read this section backwards and forwards. The catch: Canon is a runaway success that’s littered with awards and praise. Your high-concept dive bar may not be so lucky.

A- / $17 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Esquire’s Drink Like a Man

If Esquire had come up with something better than its carrot-juice-doctored bottled Manhattan for its first ready-to-drink cocktail, I might be more willing to go along with the subtitle that this is “the only cocktail guide anyone really needs.” But Esquire has always been long on hyperbole, so it’s hard to fault it here.

Drink Like a Man, edited by Ross McCammon and David Wondrich (a guy who knows what he’s talking about), is more of an anthology of vignettes on drinking reprinted from Esquire than it is a manual on how to make drinks, though it does finally get to its first recipe of the 90-some in the book when you reach page 36. That’s the beginning of the book’s 14 essential cocktails that “every man should know how to make.” Most are hard to debate, though I can’t fathom why anyone would have to have a recipe for eggnog at the ready, nor can I recall the last time I’ve been called upon to craft a gimlet for anyone. Perhaps at Esquire they’re still enjoying these with their sherry punch, which is another one of the questionable essential drinks that demonstrate your manliness.

From there the book segues into an alphabetical list of more classics, followed by a collection of “odd, inventive, or surprisingly good” concoctions. While these won’t be on the tip of any drinker’s tongue, they are all readily mixable at home. Few have more than four or five ingredients, all off the shelf stuff that any liquor store will carry. No need to make your own smoked pomegranate orgeat. If you can mix up some simple syrup, you’ll be fine.

It’s more than a little annoying that both English and metric units are specified for every single ingredient, so you’ll have to wade through a lot of visual clutter in the form of [60ml] of this and [15ml] of that. Would it have killed you to put out two versions of the book? The one thing every man really needs is the ability to use find and replace in his word processor.

B / $13 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: The Beer Geek Handbook

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Patrick Dawson’s Beer Geek Handbook is a kooky, breezy look at the often nutty world of beer – with the self-described “beer geek” squarely in mind. Extensively illustrated by Greg Kletsel, it covers the basics of beer, while tiptoeing into the rarified air of the Great American Beer Festival, beer trading, whether collaborative brews are any good, and what a DONG is. Reading this book won’t help you score a glass of Pliny the Younger, but it will help you better understand the obsession (perhaps critical if you’re a BS, a Beer geek Significant other, in the parlance of the book).

The book’s sections are quick, easy to digest, and best consumed piecemeal – and arguably while one is occupied on the toilet. While certain sections are more useful than others (the short sections on key breweries to visit is definitely worth a look), the whole affair is plenty of fun. A nice stocking stuffer.

B / $11/  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: The New Cocktail Hour

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With The New Cocktail Hour, Andre and Tenaya Darlington take a freshness-first approach to the cocktail trade, with the goal of “blurring the line between the bar and the kitchen.”

That means: Expect lots of classic cocktails and a smattering of originals that make as much use of fresh fruit, herbs, and homemade syrups as possible. The Darlingtons try to dial down the sugar in various concoctions, and they rely on honey and demerara sugar when possible.

The book is breezy and well-organized, with a nice balance between recipes and the dissemination of basic drinking knowledge (understanding various vodka types, tequila expressions, etc.). Most recipes are not overly complex, so if you’re looking for a beginners’ guide that still has a focus on quality, this is a good book to get you started. I would however like to have had more photography in the book, though what’s there is quite appealing.

Cocktail pros probably won’t learn much here, but there’s plenty of other material out there for that…

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Distilled Stories

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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.

B / $20 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Quench Your Own Thirst

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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.

A- / $17 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: ReMixology: Classic Cocktails, Reconsidered and Reinvented

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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]

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