This sounded like the perfect idea. Why hadn’t it been done before, I wondered. A rip-off-the-pages daily calendar featuring nothing but whisky. Genius!
Well, great idea though it may be, the execution of this calendar is lackluster at best. What I was hoping for was a calendar which would feature a different spirit, hopefully letting the reader discover something new or unusual over the course of the year.
A Year of Good Whisky is not that calendar.
Instead, it’s a compilation of whisky trivia, basic whisky knowledge, food pairings, and the occasional tasting note sprkingled in. None of the whiskies covered in the tasting notes are anything out of the ordinary, unless you consider Teacher’s Highland Cream or Ballantine’s Finest to be rarities. The trivia and fun facts are decidedly simplistic; in flipping through the entirety of the calendar, I’ve yet to encounter much that I didn’t already know. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I expect Drinkhacker readers to be well beyond what this calendar has to offer.
As well — and this is bizarre to say since I realize we are talking about a calendar — the writing isn’t very good. The brief writeups are written in a staccato, stilted tone that feels like it was translated into English from something else. It’s only a hundred words or so each day, but it’s an off-putting way to ease into your morning… even if it does mean you get to read about whisky.
C- / $12 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Well-known spirits writer Fred Minnick follows up his stellar Bourbon Curious with a somewhat less sexy, though equally indispensable, title: Rum Curious. As he did for the bourbon world, Minnick uses this tome to school the reader on the origins of rum (hope you like pirate stories!), the intricacies of its production, and controversies like sugaring and standards — seeing that every country that produces rum has its own rules and regulations governing its production.
A solid third of the book is devoted to Minnick’s reviews of dozens of rum brands (here revealing his tastes run toward comparably unsugared rums), followed by the expected cocktail recipes. As a one-stop shop for everything rum, it’s a solid book, though if I had to pick just one I’d still select Dave Broom’s Rum: The Manual, which I am sure I reviewed here on Drinkhacker but which seems to be missing from the site now.
Minnick is a solid writer, knows his stuff, and presents a well-organized companion to “the spirit of the future,” as they say. (Agave may be going extinct and whiskey is being priced into the stratosphere, but distilling sugar cane in third world nations isn’t going anywhere, folks!)
Best of all, it’s only 5 bucks — in hardcover — on Amazon!
A- / $5 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
I’ll be honest: When I make a Bloody Mary (which is not often), my recipe generally includes vodka plus a bottle of high-end, premade mix. There’s plenty of great mix on the market, at least that’s how my logic goes, so why reinvent the wheel?
Ellen Brown reminds us that making your own Bloodies is still an option — and probably a better one, at that. Make your own? You bet: In fact, these recipes are all from scratch, right down to making your own tomato juice and puree from fresh plum tomatoes. Don’t buy spiced or flavored vodka, she says. Here’s how to make your own.
Sure, you can make a Bloody with canned juice (and Brown will show you how if you’re strapped for time), and she even has a list of recommended pre-made mixes to share. (I’ve had almost none of them.) And when you’re ready to get fancy, she offers countless variations on the standard, ranging from the classic Brave Bull to the oddball Clear Sailing — a transparent Bloody Mary. Bar snacks aplenty are also on tap for those who want an aggressive garnish. (Brown was the founding food editor of USA Today and now is primarily a cookbook author, so she knows what she’s doing here, too.)
I’m not afraid to say that Brown has produced what may be the most essential guide to Bloody Mary cocktails ever written. If this is your drink of choice, it’s 12 bucks put to good use.
A- / $12 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Fruity, slushy beach drinks don’t get the kind of respect that craft cocktails get, and for good reason: It’s hard to be serious about a drink whose ingredients are measured in cubs, not ounces. Condensed milk, coconut rum, strawberries, Midori… those ingredients aren’t typically what you consider top shelf, either.
That said, a beach cocktail has its place (if not the beach, the pool at least), and it’s better to make them from scratch than rely on some premixed, corn syrup-infused gunk with T.G.I. Friday’s branding. So here you go. In Beach Cocktails — which carries no byline — you’ll find plenty of fruity-boozy classics, from margaritas to daiquiris, mojitos to coladas.
To be fair, it’s not all slushies. Some of the classics, including the Singapore Sling and the Pimm’s Cup, are included here, though more than a few stretch the definition of a “beach cocktail,” unless you consider a Manhattan to be a nice surfside tipple.
The book contains ample photography – a few cocktails but also plenty of stock beach/pool scenes – which is fine for breaking things up in an oversized hardcover designed, I’m sure, to be kept outside, by the pool.
B / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Randy Mosher’s been drinking beer for longer than most of us have been alive, and with the second edition of Tasting Beer, he revamps his intense and intensive guide to the way it should be consumed.
Note that this is a book for the professional, or at least for the wannabe professional. If you really want to geek out on beer, this should probably be your first stop.
Naturally, Mosher spends significant time going through the basics of brewing and the necessary historical lessons before delving into the good stuff: What are the flavor elements of beer? How are they best described? How is it best consumed? We’re talking about glassware, serving size, temperature, carbonation levels. There are worksheets.
About a third of the book, the last bit, covers beer styles in detail, broken down by region. If you don’t quite understand the difference between a Scottish Heavy and a Wee Heavy, Mosher will set you straight.
The writing is brisk and lively throughout the book, but it’s all in service of the greater good: Giving you a deeper understanding of beer. How it is made, sure, but more importantly, whether what you are drinking is any good.
A- / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Bianca Bosker used to be a technology reporter (hey, like me!) for the Huffington Post. Now she’s gone loopy for vino.
In her book Cork Dork, Bosker waxes poetic about the year she spent evolving from total wine novice to seasoned pro, primarily through learning how to taste en route to taking the Certified Sommelier Exam. As I’m sure Bosker would agree: Drinking wine is easy. Tasting is hard. And by that we’re talking about picking out sensory elements that allow writers like myself to come up with that flowery, descriptive prose that captures the very essence of what makes a wine, or any other beverage, what it is.
It’s a fun book. Bosker weaves seamlessly from raw wine education — relaying what she’s learned in a fun and breezy way — with inside scoop from the restaurant and sommelier world. (In a nutshell: It’s full of gross drunks.) Hers is the first book that gets to the awkwardness one in our business faces at medical appointments, when you are faced with questions about whether you drink alcohol and how much.
There’s a lot of science in the book, all in the service of how Bosker trained her senses, and how those senses actually work — and how you can train yours, as well. She writes about wine manipulation and additives, a subject dear to my heart, and digs at how an expensive price tag on a wine tricks you into thinking it tastes better than it does (and vice versa).
But the most memorable parts of the book have nothing to do with any of that. Rather, they focus on the personal dramas surrounding the somm world, the drunks and the hypocrites and the blowhards who populate the scenery of this unique and bizarre world. I know a lot of great and genuine people in the wine biz, and I know a lot of the creeps, too. Bosker’s book is a fascinating time spent with both of them, but after gobbling up her stories, I can’t help but feel a bit dirty, like I need a palate cleanser.
A- / $10 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
We’ve got no shortage of cocktail recipe books around these parts. Cookbooks built around booze — that’s a rarity, and I guess it’s because book publishers just get queasy about the idea of using something other than wine in a recipe for fear of turning grandma off.
Kristy Gardner’s 100 recipes in Cooking with Cocktails are high-end items, separated by course starting with (foodless) cocktails, then moving on to appetizers, entrees, sides, and sweets. Many of the recipes run to 15-plus ingredients, but if you’re feeling more restrained you’ll find some that number under 10.
Lots of the stuff in this book looks really good — and the lush photography, featuring every recipe, is a huge plus. Am I going to make Bourbon-Soaked Cherries Tiramisu? You bet. Do I want Cuervo and Tecate Pork Carnitas? Yes indeed (though I will use a better tequila. Come on, Kristy). Lots of the recipes are spins on classics like Beef Bourginon, burgers, or steamed mussels, but Gardner brings enough to the table to make you want to follow her instructions verbatim.
Gardner is as sassy a writer as she is a chef — her first two instructions to the reader are “Read the Damn Recipe” and “Google That Shit” — so even just browsing Cooking with Cocktails is lots of fun. I of course suggest pouring yourself a stiff one before you even think about which recipe you’re going to cook, of course — and I think Gardner would agree. Give it a whirl.
A- / $20 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]