Book Review: Cork Dork

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.


Book Review: Cooking with Cocktails

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.


Book Review: Hennessy: A Toast to the World’s Preeminent Spirit

The title might cue you off that this is a project sponsored by Hennessy, a coffee table book which serves as a richly illustrated historical guide to everything there is to know about this famed Cognac.

The book is divided into sections, each built around a topic or a specific luminary that has something to do with Hennessy. This ranges from eighth generation Hennessian Maurice-Richard Hennessy to, no joke, Fab 5 Freddy.

After wrapping up some basic history, the book is heavily organized around Q&A style interviews. These Q&As could use some tightening up — there’s a lot of “Well… you know… er… um…” in the transcripts — but if you’re interested in the brandy or the people doing the talking, or the relationship between the two, they’re worth a read in the way that a quickie Esquire lunch interview can be a fun way to spend five minutes. (Writer Glenn O’Brien is best known as a veteran interviewer with a focus on music.)

An equal focus of the book is art, which ranges from original illustrations to archival photos, ad images, and other ephemera that ranges back decades. It’s just as much fun (or more) to flip through the pictures as it is to see what Nas has to say about things.


Book Review: How to Drink French Fluently — A Drinker’s Guide to Joie De Vivre

How to Drink French Fluently—A Drinker’s Guide to Joie De Vivre.

How to Drink French Fluently, a book sponsored by St. Germain (aka St-Germain), is gorgeous. The photos interspersed throughout are lush and beautiful, making this a perfect coffee table book.

This book is a drinker’s guide, but it has so much more to offer than just cocktail recipes. Of course there are plenty of those from acclaimed bartenders, and each centers around St. Germain. For the elderflower liqueur lover, these thirty cocktails are sent from heaven.

The book is divided into five times of the day when a cocktail is considered appropriate—brunch, daytime, aperitif, dinner, and as a nightcap. Each section contains an explanation of the history of cocktail traditions for that time of the day and what to serve with each of the drinks during those occasions. Then come the wonderful cocktails included in each section. We have to fess up to trying nearly all of them, except for two which contain fruits not yet in season.

There is one small section near the back of the book which is particularly impressive. These pages explain how to make the unique ingredients called for in the book’s recipes. Among those ingredients are Gewürztraminer syrup, strawberry shrub, lemon cordial, St. Germain sorbet, smoked tomato-infused St. Germain, and even ice cubes made with St. Germain. We loved the ice cubes so much, we tossed a few into a tall glass of iced tea for a new take on sweet tea.

Here are a few of our favorite cocktails from the book. Once you try them, you’ll want to try the rest.

Rivington PunchRivington Punch
1 oz. dry rosé wine
½ oz. St. Germain
1 ½ oz. Aperol
¼ oz. Combier Framboise
1 oz. soda water
1 strawberry
1 grapefruit crescent

Stir all of the ingredients in a wine glass over ice. Garnish with a strawberry and a grapefruit crescent.

Voodoo Down
2 dashes orange bitters
¼ oz. ginger syrup
¼ oz. honey syrup
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. St. Germain
½ oz. Trinidadian Rum
1 oz. 12-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon

Put all ingredients into a shaker and shake with ice. Strain over ice into a double rocks glass and serve. No garnish is needed.

Voodoo DownMidnight Bouquet
1 dash grapefruit bitters (We used orange bitters instead)
½ oz. St. Germain
¾ oz. Amaro Averna
¼ oz. San Andres Alipus mezcal
1 ½ oz. añejo tequila
1 grapefruit twist

Stir all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Then strain into a coupe glass. Next, express the oils from the grapefruit twist over the surface before using it as a garnish.


Book Review: Whisky Rising

Obsessive Japanese whisky fans are no doubt familiar with the writing of Stefan Van Eycken via his website, Nonjatta. It was one of the first and most comprehensive resources on Japanese whisky available on the internet, and Van Eycken and his intrepid staff diligently scour the island for the rarest of bottles. They have even curated a few highly coveted limited editions of their own.

The product of over a decade’s worth of intensive research and scholarship, Whisky Rising is an immersive, nearly intimidating 400 pages of reviews, recipes, history and infographics beautifully presented with considered layout and design choices. Van Eycken’s writing style makes it easy to get lost in the rich amount of information provided. Each chapter is informative without relying heavily on the stylings of academic prose.

The biggest obstacle of Whisky Rising is the relatability of its content. Not any fault of Van Eycken’s, but the collective availability of these rare and precious bottles stateside presents a massive degree of unintended difficulty to anyone actually hoping to taste these spirits. Many of these gems only pop up via auctions or private sales. Even basic entry-level expressions are scarce in public supply, especially when compared to the availability of single malt, bourbon, and other whiskies. Demand for Japanese whisky is currently at fever pitch, and there appears to be no remedy to meet market cravings anytime in the foreseeable future. Unless reading while overseas or the beneficiary of an amazing retail resource, Whisky Rising reads less as a reference guide and more like a holiday wish catalog, future vacation planner, or adventurous bucket list.

Probably the most in-depth almanac on Japanese whisky ever committed to the English language, it is everything you would ever possibly care to know about Japanese whisky, but didn’t know to ask. Between this and Dominic Roskrow’s excellent Whisky Japan, there are few stones left to overturn. Both would serve well on the bookshelf of any hobbyist, casual or serious.


Book Review: Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs

Brad Thomas Parsons is no stranger to bitter herbal liqueurs. He took the craft cocktail scene by storm with his 2011 book Bitters: A Spirited History Of A Classic Cure All, and taught the common drinker how to properly use those little brown bottles behind the bar. Not happy with showing only one side of the spectrum, he now delves into drinkable bitters in his new book Amaro: A Spirited History Of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs. It is a guide to the complex area of aperitifs, fernets, and herbal based spirits that explains how these once medicinal tonics have become some of the most consumed alcoholic beverages around the world.

Parsons first explores the origins of these pungent beverages, which can be traced back to the medieval age where monks and friars were experimenting with the restorative powers of herbs and other botanicals. In preparation for the large list of examples in the book,  a short course on how to appreciate the various styles goes over the many ways one can drink them. The list itself is broken into sub-categories for ease of reference, and includes plenty of tasting notes, exploratory histories, and information about ingredients and recipes.

A large section of the book focuses on the vast amount of cocktails being made with these restorative tonics around the world. The negroni and other classic amaro-based drinks are covered, as well as a whole series of modern-day concoctions that include spirits such as mezcal and single malt whisky. Parsons also injects his own musings and stories into the descriptions of the 91 individual recipes that explain the inspiration behind many of them.

The book ends with a do it yourself section that explains the finer points of making your own amaro at home, and a how to guide for using herbal liqueurs in the kitchen. The DIY portion offers four seasonally inspired recipes that are easy to follow, and mimic different styles of amari. Parsons walks the reader through some of the uncommon ingredients and the best way to acquire them, and discusses the materials you will need and some different techniques to use. The kitchen section offers several amaro-based recipes that focus on dessert items, which plays towards the digestif aspect of these liqueurs and shows the versatility their flavors have to offer. Many of the ingredients are easy to find, and the instructions are simple to follow, which allows the reader to play around with different styles of amari.

Overall, this book is a wonderful introduction to the world of herbal liqueurs. Parsons guides the reader through a dizzying amount of information that demystifies the complex world of amaro, and describes the best ways to enjoy them. He also provides a human element throughout the book that pulls the reader into the lives of those that make and enjoy these eclectic beverages, and sets it apart from a typical cocktail recipe guide.


Book Review: Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, And Unanswered Questions

From the scientist that studies rats with hangovers to the bar patron who wonders why anyone would want a raw egg in their drink, there have always been those who question the how’s and why’s of what we imbibe. Over the years, large amounts of research has been compiled to explain why fermented and distilled beverages entice the senses, and to explore the physical and psychological experiences that occur when we consume them. Brian D. Hoefling’s own research into these quandaries provided him the opportunity to pen his new book Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, and Unanswered Questions.

Within the book Hoefling provides an intermediate study of the sciences involved in the production, preparation, and consumption of alcohol, and includes explanations for many rumors and theories along the way. Everything from fermentation to hangovers is fully explained in an easily accessible fashion that allows any novice to quickly understand the material. Plenty of detailed scientific data is included, which should satisfy the experts as well. There are also many interesting and amusing graphs, illustrations, and research studies to support the text, furnishing the reader with a fuller understanding of the more complex details around booze.

Explanations of several major myths surrounding alcohol show up within each section, and are either debunked or upheld by Hoefling’s explanations and scientific research. These include many common tales and theories that most of us have heard at one time of another, but he also includes some lesser-known rumors, such as how grapefruit may affect the potency of alcohol, to keep things interesting. Likewise, there is plenty of humor injected into his scrutinization of this folklore, which helps to keep a light-hearted attitude throughout the book.

Overall the book is successful in supplying an organized guide to the science behind alcohol. It has similar content to other books written on the subject such as Proof, but its merit lies in the easily understandable nature of the presented materials, updated content, and simplification of detailed information. The book dutifully explores the reactions we experience before and after we consume alcohol and is a solid jumping off point for anyone who wants to further their own understanding of the field.