Pegu Books: Field Guide to Cocktails

Field Guide to CocktailsThe 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.

A Pegu?
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.

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

10 Comments

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  • Hey, so long as he specifies “fresh lime juice” in the Pegu recipe, it makes up for the Blue Curacao. ohhhhhhhhh, snap!

    Anyways, I liked this book more than you did, but I’m partial to Field Guides and found the use of “Plates” in the middle of it endearing rather than off-putting (again, field guide fan here).

    That Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster is nice, but finding the Arcturan Mega-Gin is a friggin’ bitch.

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  • Oh that’s no problem in Ohio. (Can’t legally buy Van Gogh Gin or Cheery Heering in this state, but Arcturan Mega-Gin is in every United Dairy Farmers’) The pain in the butt here is the Algolian Suntiger. I’m hoping that Rick or Darcy may post a recipe soon.
    As for the plates in the center, I just hate paging back and forth. As with “the Shortcut”, I’m all about the ergonomics!

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  • As I mentioned elsewhere, the Pegu recipe was an editorial mistake. When I wrote the book, I never specified which curaçao (Don’t assume, as they say). The editors assumed blue and shot a photograph as such. Thanks to a pressured deadline, I did not see the mistake until the book was off to the printer. Fortunately, it is only one of two errors I have caught so far.

    Mortifingly yours,
    Rob Chirico

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  • Fortunately, it is only one of two errors I have caught so far.

    Heh. My wife Maggi can feel the pain. She was an editor of research journals for about ten years, and knows from deadlines.

    Of course, she never had any problems like that!

    For what it is worth, as the post hopefully shows, I forgave you your and your editor’s error quickly, once I realized your book had recipes for drinks so… interesting… as The Black Lung, and had such excellent entries as the one on Moscow Mules (stay tuned for a post on them here soon.)

    Well… I forgive you your blasphemy. Whichever drone read curaçao and inserted blue before it will surely spend eternity drinking Appletinis!

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  • Dale DeGroff and I were commiserating in New Orleans about all the gaffs that befall us due to misprints and so forth. As a professional, though, it’s even worse when the other bartenders in your restaurant don’t adhere to the recipes. When I’m not around, I hear that they cheat in any number of ways to save time, like substituting Rose’s for fresh lime or not properly chilling glasses. In one instance, my bottle of Peychaud’s bitters went missing — probably because someone detested making Sazaracs. All too often they are thinking about their own convenience rather than the complete satisfaction of the customer.

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  • So, what is the other error you found in the Field Guide? Inquiring minds want to know!
    And (this comment thread is rapidly becoming a coming attractions thread) I just bought a bottle of Peychaud’s bitters to try in Pegus. Interesting results, that are still in draft stage in my que. But now I have something else to try with the Peychaud’s, thanks.
    And if you read through my little blog very far, you’ll see that I have a fierce and abiding hatred of using Rose’s in place of real lime juice! I’d recommend sending the offenders through the meat grinder, except that the health inspector might frown on the practice…..

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  • This rather like asking Superman which other varients of kryptonite will affect him. If you must know, although wedges of lime are mentioned in the preparation, they were omitted in the actual muddling part of the recipe. Lord, do I detest making those things on a busy Friday night!
    Regarding Rose’s, I have nearly come to blows with one of the owners (nearly, because she have pinned to the mat in no time) regarding using it in part in our Margaritas. She claims that New Englanders would find true Margaritas too tart, so we mix half fresh with half Rose’s. I do, however, have a hand juicer behind the bar, hidden next to the shotgun, for anyone who requests a real Margarita. There is no replacement for fresh limes. When I was living in Buenos Aires, I found it difficult to procure them, despite their popularity in nearby Brazil. When asked by a grocer what a lime was, I told him it was something in between a lemon and a gin and tonic.

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  • Ummm… Has she ever heard of Simple Syrup? I have yet to find any evidence that Rose’s is much besides a whisper of lime juice in simple syrup. And you can tap into her (universal bar owners’) avarice by pointing out how much cheaper it is….
    Of course (blog post preview time again), I use that exact half and half ratio in my Kamikazes, so who am I to talk?
    And I love that definition of a lime! I hope you won’t mind if I promote it to a main post next time I have writer’s block. I had no idea Argentina was inhabited by extra-terrestrials!

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  • Argentina is actually a fabulous country. The beef and wine help, of course, but, like much of Europe, the lemon supercedes (super seeds?) the lime. I had to buy a key lime tree to put on my balcony for the glorious green globes. Otherwise I would bring limes from the States, treasuring each slice as the batch dwindled. Of course, once you are over the border into Brazil, limes — and ice, I might add — are plentiful. When I was in B.A. there was only one restaurant where I could get a decent Martini. And the owner would never say it aloud, there was such an onus against those “North American” cocktails. That was in the late 80s, so let’s hope things have changed.

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