Category: Books
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Books

Book Review: The Bar Book, by Jeffrey Morganthaler

The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, by Jeffrey Morganthaler Jeff Morganthaler is one of my favorite people in the cocktail industry. This isn't surprising, since the Morganthler is among the favorite people of most everybody in this line of work. Aside from running the bar at Clyde Common, an iconic bar in one of the world's iconic cocktail cities, he is one of the most quoted and profiled bartenders anywhere. Jeff also wrote one of the first, and still most respected, cocktail blogs out there, and while he doesn't update it as much as he used to, many of his posts remain standard references for professional and amateur mixers years after their publication. Now he has written his first book, and like everything else he sets his mind to, it is a true winner. The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique is a pretty unique book in a number of ways, all of them good. I divide cocktail books into two general types: References, and Reads. References are books filled with discrete, useful ideas that you grab when you need to refresh yourself on something specific you are working on, usually recipes. Reads are books you can relax with in a comfy patio chair while you toss back a Gin Rickey on a lazy weekend afternoon. The Bar Book is that very rare cat that is both of these. More importantly, The Bar Book manages to break new ground in its central subject matter: technique. Morganthaler assembles an exhaustive A to Z of what it takes to actually make a great drink. The first half of the book focuses on the selection, care, and handling of the for the most part non-alcoholic ingredients that make or break most great drinks. He starts with citrus and other fruits; how to purchase, handle, and juice them to get the most, best out of them. In covering carbonation and carbonated mixers, Jeff combines some interesting historical reflection on "mixers" with detailed how-tos for things like his signature ginger beer and tonic syrup. He moves on to simple syrups, examining the different types of sugar, their flavors and textures, and how they each effect a drink. How many times do you see a recipe that calls for demerara simple, or honey syrup, with no explanation for why it was chosen? Building on that is a great chapter on more advanced syrups such as the borderline molecular mixological gomme syrup, and all manner of herb and fruit concoctions. An author could probably do a three volume set on the production of bitters and tinctures, but the chapter here gives a clear and detailed enough outline of the basics to enable anyone with the creative culinary chops to produce anything worthwhile more than enough to go on. The chapters on measuring, dairy and eggs, and ice all seem like insanely simple subjects, but mess any of them up and your product will fail. The twenty pages on shaking and stirring are hugely entertaining and if you disagree with the slightest detail therein... you are wrong. There is a huge and fun section on all the sort of tools and techniques where a lot of the fun in making drinks, and watching them be made, come in. Jeff's discussion of things like muddlers, swizzles (the real kind), and especially fire as cocktail tools is going to fascinate, whether you are a newbie or an old pro. The final chapter is fittingly on the garnish. He combines his discussion of with some evangelization for the subject of garnish. It is true that too many bartenders, even higher end pros and crafty amateurs (like me on occasion), view the garnish as an afterthought to be omitted when one can get away with it. To this, Morganthaler replies,
Although I applaud the modernist, minimal approach in the right situation, there is a time and place for everything. And when it comes to garnishing, the time is often, and the place is in your drink.
In my liver-ruiningly comprehensive experience, good garnishes make you happy, bad garnishes make you sad, and no garnish makes you bored. No one making a drink for anyone, even themselves, should be in the business of making the recipient sad or bored. Throughout, The Bar Book is filled with beautiful photographs that are much more than just drinkporn, but essential elements of the instruction, often filling in details that would have been very hard to otherwise describe. Jeff told me and a few of Columbus's best at a meeting of our book club that it took eight straight 12-14 hour days to do all the pictures for this book, and that time and effort shows through. Indeed, my only real complaint with the entire book was that there weren't more pictures in a few places. And while it is in no way a recipe book, there are a bunch of recipes throughout, each one designed and placed to illustrate an ingredient or technique or concept that was just discussed. Drinking your way through The Bar Book over the course of a couple of weeks would make an excellent final exam, a test of how well you've absorbed the knowledge therein. For a hundred years, no major cocktail book has given much more than a perfunctory nod to the bedrock, essential skills, tools, and techniques a person must possess to properly construct all the marvelous recipes that are being created or rediscovered in modern days. Detailed treatment of technique in the preparation of food has always been an essential part of cookbooks and culinary texts. As cocktails gain more and more respect as a culinary art, this kind of book is well past due. What took you so long, Jeff? Current and aspiring professionals who would like to be able to work in the high craft end of the bar industry will need virtually every piece of knowledge in The Bar Book at some point in their careers. Buying it, reading it, absorbing it, and at least making a start at proficiency with many of the skills taught in it will put you head and shoulders ahead of competing applicants. And please also understand, even if your bartending aspirations are just rocking away Saturday nights behind the stick at Applebee's while you complete your degree, there is plenty here to help in that environment as well. And while the Bar Book is primarily aimed at working bartenders, I think it deserves prime shelf space on the shelf of any amateur mixer who aspires to make great drinks as well. The Bar Book is currently available from Amazon for about twenty one bucks, or thirteen in Kindle format. If I were you, I'd get it in hardcover. This is a seminal cocktail work, and is going to be a standard reference for the craft and general cocktail industry for years, and probably decades to come. abc
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movie cocktails
Books

Smithsonian Cocktail Blogging

The Smithsonian's Food & Think blog has an enjoyable read about how cocktails figure in some great books, entitled Slurred Lines: Great Cocktail Moments in Famous Literature. The literary stories are supplemented with a few videos from movies and documentaries. I'll quote a few examples in an attempt to whet your appetite to read the whole post. The lead drink is the Ramos Gin Fizz, which among many other stories features prominently in both Walker Percy's own life, and his book Love in the Ruins.
Dr. Thomas More defies his egg white allergy by downing gin fizz after gin fizz with Lola, his lover. “These drinks feel silky and benign,” he muses—until seven fizzes later, he breaks out in hives and his throat starts to close. More’s brush with death mirrors Walker Percy’s own: the writer once went into anaphylactic shock after drinking gin fizzes with (luckily for him) a Bellevue nurse. Percy later wrote in his 1975 essay, “Bourbon”: “Anybody who monkeys around with gin and egg white deserves what he gets. I should have stuck with Bourbon and have from that day to this.”
Walker is a fine writer, and bourbon is a fine spirit, but a mere egg white allergy is no reason to swear off gin! Of course, no good cocktail article goes without some controversial assertions. I'll point certain of my regular readers to the assertion that a Gimlet can be made without Rose's (and with vodka).... And then there is this curious assertion:
In his 1940 autobiographical work Dusk of Dawn, W.E.B. Du Bois draws a caricature of a hypocritical white minister as a well-bred man in Brooks Brothers clothes who “plays keen golf, smokes a rare weed and knows a Bronx cocktail from a Manhattan.” For the record, the main difference between the two cocktails is the liquor—a Bronx is made with gin and a Manhattan with rye.
Um, for the record, the orange juice, which the post just discussed in interesting detail, is a fairly major difference too, n'est pas?abc
reviews
Books

Book Review: Food & Wine Cocktails 2010

Food & Wine Magazine releases a cocktail annual almanac each year. I've bought a couple of them over the years, and only just got around to picking up a copy of Cocktails 2010 today from a display at my local grocery store where I had gone to pick up yard-long straws for use in Scorpion Bowls (but that's another post). I had not even intended to review it at all, as the series is well-known already. But the PeguWife noticed an absolutely killer feature in this edition that would merit a full post in and of itself. I'll detail said feature last, after I mention a few things about the book otherwise. There are over 160 recipes, ranging from some standards, to forgotten drinks, to updated old recipes, to new creations. They are broken up into sections, each introduced with a profile of a famous mixologist. Jeff Berry (natch) introduces the rum chapter for instance, and a host of other All-Stars have at least an original recipe included. It's a good format that thinks a little outside the box. In general, it works effectively, but I confess I cannot understand the inclusion of genever and aquavit in the vodka section.... There is a section of pretty good-looking mocktails, and of course some delicious recipes too. Most of the recipes would make good hors d'oeuvres, but a few are full on entrees or other dishes more suited to the table than a cocktail party. This threw me for a loop at first, but it actually makes sense. Since cocktails are becoming more readily acceptable with dinner (as opposed to just before and after), it makes sense to look at meals that complement them as well. But the killer feature, the feature that should be found in every damn illustrated cocktail book published, is this: The model and maker of every glass used in every picture is detailed right on the page. I love collecting beautiful glasses, and reading most cocktail books is at least a partial exercise is frustrated covetousness. I hate seeing gorgeous glasses that I can't find. With the simple addition of a caption, Food & Wine lets you at least find the glasses they use in the pictures. They even let you know what the wallpaper is you can see in the background of some shots. Whether my finances will allow me to buy the glasses in the book that I like most is another matter. The Iittala Ultima Thule Highball, shown here containing a Jalisco Sling, goes for 52 bucks a pair on Amazon. I haven't pushed the One Click button yet, but I may. The Bamboo Tumbler (by Roost) showcasing the Sugar Hill Punch has already been ordered (not from Amazon, alas) because it is only $17. Without this feature of glass brand and model information, Cocktails 2010 would be a good buy. Its inclusion makes this attractive little book a super one. abc
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