OK. The presents are all opened. The wrapping paper is strewn all over the house. The most expensive toy you bought Junior is neglected in the corner, while he plays with the box. Your spouse was less enthralled than you hoped she would be with her Slanket™.
You need a drink.
And you got a gift card for Christmas.
Let’s go back to that drink, shall we? Go make a Pegu, I’ll wait.
How are you going to put that gift card to good use? Well, this is not likely to be the last time you will need a really good drink. And, since most of you Visigoths out there won’t simply repeat that Pegu above until satisfied, I have a use for that gift card.
In fact, may I suggest that this item is the single most valuable thing any serious cocktail maker can have in his or her home?
What if I got the card?
I don’t actually make the cocktails, I just enjoy them.
Then order this, and give it to your guy. He’ll think he’s getting a supplemental gift, while you will reap the rewards.
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, by David Embury, lovingly republished by Greg Boehm’s Mud Puddle Books, is simply the best book ever written on crafting cocktails, full stop.
In many ways, I have learned more about making cocktails from The Fine Art than I have from all the blogging I have done since starting this website.
One of the great things that fuels cocktail blogging is that mixology is an art form which can be practiced at the highest levels by complete amateurs. You don’t need hard to find or expensive tools, nor do you need difficult to acquire training from specialized schools. It is fitting therefore, that this greatest of cocktail books is not written by a bartender, but by a tax lawyer.
In 1948, Embury wrote this bar book unlike any other, aimed entirely at the home mixer who wants to craft better cocktails than he can get in almost any bar, anywhere.
Most cocktail books are basically lists of recipes, sometimes a bewildering list of recipes. Many cocktail books focus on how to set up your bar, the equipment you need, and maybe how to use it. Embury does both of these, but neither is what is remotely important about this book.
Embury includes a truly vast number of recipes in The Fine Art. But he tells you that he is doing this to illustrate that recipes are a double-edged sword. You can have far too many of them (a fact lovingly illustrated by a lot of iPhone apps that either get this, or don’t), and most of them on any large list will be pond water. Embury in fact states baldly that many of the recipes he includes himself are pond water.
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks will not teach you a lot of great drinks to make. Well, it will, but that is not what it is about. If you read and absorb the first half of this book, and you have good taste and a sense of adventure, you won’t really ever need another bar book at all. Because the real title of this book should be The Fine Art of Creating Drinks.
Embury presents that sea of recipes so that he can break them down to show how similar many of them are. Then he shows the basic formulae of each class of drink. Finally, he discusses how you can then take the ingredients you have on hand, match them with the style of cocktail you want to make, and create your own drink that will likely suit your own tastes better than any recipe, no matter how exactingly you were to follow it. Similarly, you can use this information to modify existing recipes to meet your taste, or to work with the ingredients you have.
Read Embury, absorb Embury, and you will know more about making cocktails than most of the bartenders on Earth.
Not that it matters, but the book is not perfect. Embury’s discussion of brands, based on 1948 offerings, is dated at best. Many of these brands hold little resemblance to their modern counterparts. His understanding and description of vodka is particularly entertainingly out of date. And the last third of the book is a sea of those “example” recipes, largely unreadable and almost pointless if you’ve buckled down at the start.
But those quibbles are irrelevant. Not only is the knowledge imparted in the meat of the book invaluable, but it is presented with exceptional clarity and readability.
I thought you said the guy was a lawyer?
Lawyers who write in a clear, entertaining manner do exist, you know.
If you love mixing cocktails, you will absolutely love this book. It will live by your bedside while you absorb it, then take a place of prominence from then on on your bar or in its library. Get out that gift card, order it (check the buying options), and make a New Year’s Resolution to make no more mediocre drinks!
The following product, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, by David Embury, was recently provided to me as promotional consideration to encourage me to discuss it.
For a complete disclosure of my policies regarding promotional items and all other financial interests, please click this link, or follow the
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