The Field Guide to Cocktails is an interesting little book. Part of a series that includes such other titles as Field Guide To Meat and Field Guide to Produce, the idea is to produce a pocket-sized reference on a culinary subject, reminiscent of my dog-eared copy of Peterson’s Guide to North American Birds. It’s a neat idea. And while the author, Rob Chirico, does some great work here, I think the project as a whole misses the mark by a small margin.
The biggest problem is inherent to the series: The size and layout of the volume. It is pocket sized, which makes sense for a straight recipe book, a la The BarKeeper Pocket Peeker, that a professional bartender might use to crib his or her way through an attack of the Obscure Drink Orderer. But the Field Guide is written for the drinker, not the mixer. The size is too small to comfortably read, or to stay open on the bar top while you try something you read about therein. The photos are all mugshots, and are quarantined, four to a page, in a center section of the book. This saves the publisher a lot of money, I’m sure, but come on! A lovely photograph of a drink, set beside the recipe for same, is a great way to give a quick idea of whether you’d like to try it out. These gripes don’t make this a bad book, just a little disappointing in that it is not as good as it might have been.
I know it seems like this is a pan, but it’s not. Most of the rest of this post is going to be pretty positive… with one significant exception. Frankly, I’m going to employ the old “More” tag here, because I don’t want what I’m about to show to appear on my main page.
What the Hell is that? That, my loyal reader, is a Pegu, according to Mr. Chirico!
Remember, the post title indicated that this is a Pegu Book. I did an Amazon search, and came up with this book as having a Pegu recipe within, so I bought it. I checked the index, and turned to the photo page. I nearly burst out laughing. Actually, I did burst out laughing. This got me some strange looks, as I was sitting beside the pool at our club and all these mothers are staring at me giggling like an hysteric while reading a cocktail book. When I calmed down, I remembered the discussion thread in Kaiser Penguin’s Photo Contest, and thought this had to be a tragic photo editing error. But when I checked the page that had the recipe (different areas of the book, remember?), I was confronted with this:
Pegu Club Cocktail
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce blue curaçao
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Twist of lime peel
Blue curaçoa? Blue Friggin Curaçao? Please, dear reader, do not try this at home! In fact, the less said about this unfortunate recipe, the better.
Let’s talk about happier things, shall we? Good.
The layout of each drink or class of drinks has the same elements. The sections of each are: General Description, Purchase, Area and Time of Occurrence, Season, Flavor Affinities, and Recipes. Purchase and Area and Time of Occurrence give you some idea of the kind of bar where you could order this drink, or often, where you should order it. Flavor Affinities is a cool feature that gives some idea of what foods would complement the cocktail. It would be more useful if there was some kind of reverse index, but is nifty nonetheless. Each section winds up with one or more recipes for the cocktail, and for some other cocktails that Chirico believes are variants. I say
believes because I don’t really agree with him that the Pegu is a variant of the Clover Club. But I promised to stop harping on that abominable entry, didn’t I?
Anyway, the information is really pretty useful (if you are not looking to mix a Pegu). The information is nice. What is nicer is the writing. Chirico is quite an engaging snob. Since I am a snob, and I aspire to being engaging, I feel a natural affinity. Since you are reading this, I’m guessing you will too!
Chirico includes a large number of cocktails that he clearly despises, and feels certain that the reader either does or would despise them too. So why include them? Because he gets to write things like this about Jell-O Shots:
Posh, swanky, and debonair. These words have nothing whatsoever to do with Jell-O Shots—unless you consider catching them in your mouth at the bar the way a dolphin catches fish to be posh, swanky, and debonair.
In all honesty, I think he knows a rather suspiciously large amount about Jell-O Shots….
The sections on cocktails the author likes or admires are no less engaging. They are amusing and often informative, and Chirico still keeps his tongue sharp when warning you against potential pitfalls. In his Cosmopolitan section, for instance, he wisely cautions you against ordering said cocktail at establishments christened
Bubba’s or Hog Heaven.
As I said, I can’t wholeheartedly endorse this book. And no, it isn’t just because of the recipe we shall not further discuss. It just is a collection of good writing, and good subject matter, that is marred by being forced into a format dictated by the Field Guide series that it doesn’t really fit. It’s a miss, but a near one. And it does have the virtue of the inclusion of a recipe for one of these:
Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces light rum
1 1/2 ounces Southern Comfort
1/2 ounce 151-proof rum
6 ounces cranberry juice
Wedge of Lemon
For some of you (you know who you are), that recipe will all by itself be enough to get you to buy the Field Guide to Cocktails.