A liquor cabinet's worth of new books might just be enough to turn you into an expert mixologist. Cocktails from a historical and logistical perspective, plus guides for Mad Men-style parties and kicky ladies-who-lunch gatherings, have recently hit the shelves. � Time to break out the shakers — and the reading glasses.
Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World's First Classic Cocktail With Recipes & Lore
by Robert Simonson
(Ten Speed Press, 2014; $21.99)
The rise of artisanal bitters may be the reason that the old-fashioned has become the star of the contemporary craft cocktail movement. Angostura isn't the only name on the shelves these days, now joined by botanical tonics made by Fee Brothers, Bittermens and Hella, among others.
New York Times spirits columnist Robert Simonson guides us through the history of the old-fashioned from its birth in the late 19th century to its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s to its rebirth today.
The formula for the drink is simple: whiskey, bitters, sugar and ice. Both the quality of the ingredients and the variations on the theme can make all the difference. The Old-Fashioned includes 60 recipes, mostly from contemporary bartenders around the country. Some seem a far cry from the original recipe with the inclusion of mole bitters and sherry, or one made of rum with maple syrup and blackstrap bitters. There's even one with peanut-infused bourbon!
Still, the "whiskey cocktail" never sounded so delicious. Consider this book for Dad wrapped up with a bottle of interesting bitters or the best booze you can buy for Father's Day, June 15.
The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique
by Jeffrey Morgenthaler
(Chronicle Books, 2014; $30)
Need help on muddling? Are you using the right ice to get the perfect chill factor? Wondering what essential tools you need to make a classic cocktail? Or umbrella drinks for that matter?
Portland, Ore., bartender and cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler (jeffreymorgenthaler.com) has written this book with Martha Holmberg, author of another James Beard finalist book, Modern Sauces (Chronicle Books, 2012). He's an exacting bartender with a creative flair for local and seasonal ingredients. (His blog even includes a post on the most comfy shoes for bartenders, who are on their feet a lot.)
The Bar Book, with a June 3 publishing date, is different from other guides in that it's heavy on technique. Any good mixologist will tell you that putting together a fabulous drink requires some skill. Just like baking, the layering of ingredients is essential.
The book includes more than 60 recipes with plenty of photos illustrating techniques for juicing, garnishing, shaking and stirring.
The Cocktail Club: A Year of Recipes and Tips for Spirited Tasting Parties
by Maureen Christian-Petrosky
(Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2014; $22.50)
Author Maureen Christian-Petrosky approaches a year's worth of cocktails sort of like a book club. January features gin, July is frozen drinks and October breaks out the beer cocktails. December? Bubbly offerings, of course. (Her previous booze book, The Wine Club, followed a similar path in 2005.)
This is a spirited guide for party planning, which makes sense because Christian-Petrosky is a lifestyle specialist who has appeared on programs like the Today show.
There are plenty of recipes for traditional cocktails but some with new twists, such as Mason Jar Basil Pisco Sour and Blueberry Lavender Vodka Spritzer. She knows that good drinks deserve good nibbles, too, so look for recipes for hors d'oeuvres pairings like Grilled Figs With Prosciutto and Rosemary Lemon Bars.
The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks
by Amy Stewart
(Algonquin Books, 2013; $19.95)
Amy Stewart was a James Beard Foundation finalist this year for this clever book on how our favorite libations are influenced by plants, flowers, trees and even fungi.
Stewart attacks the subject with the combined sensibilities of a biologist, chemist, historian, etymologist and, finally, as a mixologist. After all, sake's origins are found in a single grain of rice. And likewise, Scotch was born from barley, the Mexican agave plant gave rise to tequila and rum would be nowhere at all without sugarcane.
The Drunken Botanist is part encyclopedia and part bar guide with 50 recipes that bring to life Stewart's research. The spirits that we love so much have roots in nature. Consider growing your own cocktail garden with loads of herbs that can be used as flavor fuels for your libations.