Book Review: Jigger, Beaker, & Glass

Book Review: Jigger, Beaker, & Glass

I want to write a review of a book I’ve had for quite some time now: Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World by Charles H. Baker, Jr. I’ve waited so long to write about it because I’ve had such a good time reading it. For a cocktail book that is technically nothing but a collection of cocktail recipes, it is a remarkably fun read.
While J, B, & G is a collection, it is hardly Mr. Boston’s. Yes, 99.5% of the book is nothing but drink entries, (rather eccentrically) sorted alphabetically by drink name, or occasionally by drink name within a larger category such as Punch or Pousse Café, with the category name plopped in where it comes in the larger alphabet. And the recipes are literally fruits of Baker’s lifelong collection of cocktail napkins. When he liked a drink, he begged the recipe and wrote it down, with any related thoughts. Thank goodness he kept them.
In 1931ish, he undertook a truly disappointing excursion through someone else’s cocktail book, a sort of personal Stomping Through the Savoy, only conducted aboard ship on a round the world cruise.

By the time we quit Honolulu the bald-faced conclusions were as plain as the nose on our face—much of that welter of mixed things with fancy names were the egotistically-titled, ill-advised conceptions of low-browed mixers who either had no access to sound spirits, of if the they did have, had so annealed their taste buds with past noxious cups that they were forevermore incapable of judicious authority.

In other words, exactly what you think about modern references like Mr. B’s, only written better than you or I could manage. So take heart, ye modern cocktail snob who despairs of The State of Drinks Today, the ancestors of the Pink Panty Pulldown and the Slow Comfortable Screw Up Against The Wall were just as prevalent in the Golden Age as they are today.
Once Baker shook off the effects of literally drinking his way around the world, he took to collecting recipes in earnest; and in 1939 he sat down to compile his collection of crumpled napkins into the book originally titled The Gentleman’s Companion.

They probably gave it the new title because the old one sounds like a strip club guide….

And what would you know about strip club guides?

Er, how about a butler’s manual?

Let’s just go with Jigger, Beaker & Glass, shall we?
In addition to the recipes, Baker interjects occasional WORDS to the LIQUID WISE. These little gems are a combination of very cogent mixological advice and extraordinary judgementalism…. Observe:


A warm cocktail is like half-way objects in life—neither this nor that, and often a reflection on the judgement and discretion of those present.

(The guy would have flunked a capitalization class co-taught by George Bernard Shaw and e.e.cummings, but that is part of the fun of this book.)
But the real heart of this book is the recipes. There are zillions of them, and they are almost all written with great precision (a bugaboo of Baker’s). But they are not written like recipes, but as a narrative, both in the making of the drink itself…

{Jerusalem’s Between the Sheets}
…Of cognac, cointreau, dry gin, and lemon juice—strained—take equal parts. Shake briskly with crushed ice and serve in a Manhattan glass. Cut down on the cointreau to make dry to taste.

…and in the story which usually accompanies the recipe, in which Baker details the circumstances under which he first tried the concoction. The Between the Sheets is an excellent example of this as well. I won’t quote it, as it is too long, and too sad for this post. Suffice it to say that Jerusalem was the same peaceful beacon of hope and harmony in the thirties that it is today.
The writing is amazingly evocative, funny, and eccentric. The anecdotes he relates are even more so. The real fun here is in how the book transports you back in time, without intending to do so. So much has changed in the world, and so much has not. And it is a lot of fun to see that those two categories contain some things you did not expect. You will learn, for example, that there was once debate and enmity across the land about the construction of Juleps that seems to equate to modern fights over Ohio State and Michigan, Gin Martinis and Vodka, or Ford trucks and Chevys. And I am pretty sure that you couldn’t find any of the eight definitive Julep recipes Baker recounts anywhere today.
Finally, the book includes a large collection of non-alcoholic potions. Potions from a day when the memory of Prohibition was still fresh and sore; a day when adults had to have something to replace the cocktail in their diet, and worked hard at finding something to actually like. I will do a separate post on his Raspberry Vinegar beverage when I can get a batch mixed up.
Jigger, Beaker, & Glass is not really a useful reference, as the recipes are dated and poorly organized, but it is a reference you ought to have, and actually read. You’ll have a gas, and you’ll learn something too—about both cocktails and the world.

  1. Tex

    3 August

    Doug I agree with your sentiments about this book–that it is fabulously entertaining, and a valuable but impractical resource. If you are aware of St. John Frizell’s work on this subject then please disregard this notice. But if not, I attended his seminar on this book at Tales and acquired a copy of The Charles H. Baker Jr. Companion, which lays to rest many of the concerns about this work’s poor organization and indexing. I have been using it side by side with the original book and it is extremely helpful. Frizell and Martin Doudoroff have indexed all of the drinks by name as well as by ingredient; and have standardized the recipes into a format that is more useful than Baker’s paragraph style. (He also has a biographical article about Baker in the current Oxford American, which I have yet to read.)

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. Daniel Luth

    1 July

    Where can I acquire a copy of The Charles H. Baker Jr. Companion please?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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