Book Review: The Bar Cart Bible

Enduring Mad Men symbology and ’50s/’60s nostalgia are bringing back yet another nifty idea from yesteryear: The rolling bar cart that lets you turn cocktail hour into a moveable feast.

The Bar Cart Bible (no author listed, oddly), is designed with simple cocktails in mind. The 350 drinks included can all be made on the go, so you won’t need to smoke any ice or make any lavender tinctures to mix up these cocktails. If you can stock some simple syrup and sour mix and fill an ice bucket, everything else can generally come out of a bottle or a can. (How fancy you want to get with the occasional call for orange juice is up to you… I will note that at least one of the cocktails calls for Tang!)

These are simple drinks designed for small spaces and the most basic of cocktail hours, and when more complex drinks are included (like the Mai Tai), they’re simplified considerably. Most of the drinks have just 3 or 4 ingredients.

As for what you’ll actually be drinking, unfortunately The Bar Cart doesn’t seem to be the most well-curated list of drinks — particularly considering the rather sophisticated surroundings of a bar cart. Will your guests be jonesing for a Comfortable Fuzzy Screw, a Mind Eraser, or a Psycho Tsunami (made with blue curacao, natch)? If so, they won’t be drinking it anywhere near a bar cart, and they aren’t invited to my house.


Book Review: The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

A few years back, Frank Caiafa was hired for a daunting job: Run the lobby bar at the New York Waldorf Astoria, an icon of cocktailing with over a century of history in its walls and bartops.

For the last decade Caiafa has been gentling coaxing the place into the new millennium, reviving classic drinks, updating and enhancing them where possible, and introducing a new generation of drinkers to the traditions and tastes of yesteryear.

Caiafa’s collected wisdom is distilled into this new edition of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, a sort of compilation of a dozen or more “Old Books,” with a particular focus on two Waldorf-centric books from the 1930s. In nearly 400 pages, Caiafa takes you through an alphabetical exploration of the classics, providing their recipes, variations, backstories, and in-depth context for every cocktail’s creation. Whether you want to know the history of the Jack Rose, the Martini, or the Merry Widow, Caiafa has you covered. The Old Fashioned? Forget about it — there’s over 3 pages of backstory on this classic cocktail — and its relation to the Waldorf Astoria.

Caiafa provides extensive detail in his recipes, calling the spirits he uses in each drink by name and offering tips and suggestions on how to tweak each drink to let it put its best foot forward. He has done an impressive amount of work in taking old (and sometimes disgusting) recipes and improving them or outright reinventing them.

The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book isn’t just a book of about classic cocktails, it’s a must-have guide to tending bar, an encyclopedia of cocktail history that just so happens to have some of the most sophisticated and well-crafted cocktail recipes you’ll find in any book on the market.


Book Review: Inside the Bottle

Arthur Shaprio is a legendary wine and spirits industry maven who has seen every trick in the booze industry marketing playbook. He is also the author of Booze Business, an exhaustive blog dissecting both the history and the current trends in the industry, and Inside the Bottle is his book.

I should, perhaps, clarify: Inside the Bottle is a book of Booze Business blog posts, which in turn are musings from a man who worked for years at Seagram and after it closed worked as a consultant for an endless procession of household name big booze brands. None of these entities seem to have had a nondisclosure agreement with Shapiro, and he lays bare all the demons at major brands like Crown Royal, Captain Morgan, Absolut, Skyy, and on and on. Shapiro’s stories are always illuminating and lots of fun; if you have any illusions about getting into the booze industry in any way, reading Shapiro’s book is an absolute must.

The book reads, not surprisingly, a lot like a blog. Stories have been roughly segmented into chapters, but the flow is choppy to the point of being almost random. It can be hard to tell sometimes where one tale ends and another begins, but the generous inclusion of simple cartoon drawings frequently used as dividers may be of help in that regard. Still, Shapiro knows how to spin a yarn, and he has no problem throwing every sacred cow he encounters under one bus or another.

The problem is: I’m unclear how much material in this book doesn’t appear on Booze Business, but a spot check indicates that it’s not a lot. You therefore have a choice when it comes to how you consume Shapiro’s tales. If you like the weight of the book in your hand or prefer to read on dead trees, grab the book. If you want to save $14, well, just point your browser to the link above. Either way, I’m sure Shapiro would have something to say about your decision.


Book Review: The Big Man of Jim Beam

With all the hubbub over half-recanted price hikes of Booker’s Bourbon, it’s an inauspicious time to be releasing The Big Man of Jim Beam, a biography of the Beam distiller which Booker’s is named after: Booker Noe.

Noe died in 2004, so this book, written by Jim Kokoris, is quite distanced from the man himself. And maybe that’s fine. The Big Man of Jim Beam is a dutiful, authentic, and clearly 100% authorized exploration of the man who was, by all accounts, larger than life. (He was, after all, called “the big man.”) Such a strange choice then to encase his life story in a pocket-sized book that measures barely over 5″ by 7″.

Kokoris is a no-nonsense writer, so don’t expect a ton of fluff as we go from Noe’s childhood to his early days as a distiller to his ascendency at Beam to lean times in the ’70s and ’80s to the creation of his baby, Booker’s Bourbon. (Curious why Booker’s is sold in wine bottles? Read the book to find out!) The anecdotes about Noe’s life are plentiful yet thin, though it is fun to imagine Noe trying to smuggle foie gras back from France, wrapped up in his underwear. Kokoris even manages to wrangle some pathos out of Noe’s dying days (diabetes) and deathbed wishes.

I never met Booker Noe, but I’ve heard plenty of stories from his contemporaries and successors, and it’s fun enough to encounter them again in this tome. One wishes the prose were a bit more lively, however — and particularly that it had been more closely edited. A “pallet” is something you might put cases of bottled whiskey on for transportation. What the writer (and Noe) surely mean when discussing the experience of tasting whiskey is a “palate.”


Review: Beer FAQ

The tagline promises this book will tell us “All that’s left to know about the world’s most celebrated adult beverage.”

Based on the number of beer books I’ve read over the years, there can’t be much. But somehow writer Jeff Cioletti fills over 370 pages with this wisdom. The tagline is a bit of a misnomer — Beer FAQ is part of a FAQ series, which is sort of an upscale “for Dummies” series, published by Backbeat Books. There are FAQ books on soccer, on Seinfeld, and on A Chorus Line. Now there is one on beer.

Cioletti’s book is a bit of a rambler, super-dense with everything there is to say about beermaking, regional styles, and the history of brewing. Craft brewers and the big guys are both given equal time, and there are even sections on beer festivals, beer glassware, and even top beer bars around the world. There’s a section on how beer distribution works. There’s even a chapter on movies in which beer features prominently.

Now I can’t imagine that “What movies can I watch where they drink beer?” is a question asked with any kind of regularity, but if it’s something you’ve been wondering about, well, Cioletti’s got a pretty decent list for you to check out. You can read all about it in between enquiries into the evolution of beer packaging and diversions into discussions of Scandinavian brewmaking.


Book Review: Home Brew Recipe Bible

Now that I’ve got my first homebrew under my belt, what’s next? Perhaps a spin through the Home Brew Recipe Bible: An Incredible Array of 101 Craft Beer Recipes, From Classic Styles to Experimental Wilds, will spur some ideas?

Chris Colby’s tome isn’t so much a bible as it is an encyclopedia, a straightforward cookbook for producing over 100 different beer styles, one after the other. I can’t seem to think of any type of beer that isn’t fully covered in the book, with Colby delving into such obscurities as black IPA, eisbock, and gueuze. Sours and oddball brews like sweet potato bitter and peanut butter porter are also included.

It’s not a book for the novice. While some of the recipes are starter brews, Colby quickly takes you into more advanced territory — and those looking for hand-holding, babysitting, or pictorial instructions simply won’t find them here. For seasoned homebrewers who want a growler-full of recipes all in one place, however, this is a great addition to the library.


Book Review: Whisky Japan

If you missed the meteoric rise of Japanese whisky over the last 15 years, I hate to tell you this, but it’s too late to catch up. The very best of Japanese whiskies are simply no longer available, replaced by lower-end shadows of their former selves. If you can find a top shelf Japanese bottling, the price will be simply astronomical. And unlike in bourbon country, where capacity is dramatically on the rise, there’s not much end in sight for Japanese whisky shortages.

So, while you drown your sorrows in rotgut, you can at least read about what you missed, courtesy of Dominic Roskrow’s Whisky Japan, wherein he charts the mysterious beginnings and meteoric rise of late of Japanese whisky before delving into the good stuff: detailed reports on every distillery in the country (well, all 13 of them), writeups on dozens of specific bottlings, and listings of essential bars to visit in Japan — and world bars that have solid stocks of Japanese juice. Roskrow’s thin tasting notes and his reliance on unhelpful flavor wheel graphics are the sole weak spot in an otherwise standout tome.

Roskrow’s book works well as a companion to Drinking Japan, which is referenced several times throughout, though the hardcover design of Whisky Japan means you won’t be toting it with you to Tokyo. The larger format though does permit Roskrow to showcase absolutely gorgeous photography — of the places he takes you and the whiskies themselves — turning the book into an aspirational piece that will work well on any fan’s coffee table.