New cocktail books — and a reader giveaway

In the past few months a slew of cocktail books have come out that share one detail commending the excellent taste of the authors: They all include a recipe or two from me. That’s all I need to know to conclude that a book is worth buying, but for those with more exacting standards, here’s a little more information about them.

901 Very Good Cocktails: A Practical Guide, Stew Ellington — For truth in advertising, it’s hard to beat the title of Stew Ellington’s book. It is what it says it is. Still, I didn’t know quite what to expect from it. The size is the first surprise. The book is big, with a nice hardcover, and spiral bound so that it lays flat while open. This makes it ideal for referencing while mixing. Like the title says, it’s practical.

After a brief introduction the book launches into “68 lists of the cocktails by type, flavor, theme, and more” to fit every mood, occasion, or whim, including “postprandial” and “expensive.” Then comes the meat of the book, 901 Ellington-approved cocktails presented in alphabetical order and given a star ranking.

My Shift Drink is one of the cocktails, earning a ranking of 4 1/2 stars. Before this goes to my head, I’ll note that other 4 1/2 star cocktails include the Surfer on Acid and the Goober. Part of the fun of this book is that it’s so eclectic and isn’t afraid to slum it with ingredients like coconut rum and Midori. These drinks appear right alongside mixologist favorites like the Brooklyn and Boulevardier. Stew is a passionate enthusiast rather than a professional bartender, and even if I question some of his selections, he reminds me to take off my blinders and try things I may normally overlook.

One of my frustrations with many contemporary cocktail books is that in the hunt for originality, they call for ingredients that are too esoteric or require too much preparation for easily trying things out. These books certainly have their place, and I enjoy them, but making complicated drinks is what I do for a living. When I come home, I want a book I can flip through to find something to try on a moment’s notice. Generally eschewing homemade or hard-to-find ingredients, 901 Very Good Cocktails is perfect for that. Anyone wanting a cocktail book that rewards casual and frequent exploration will be very happy with it.

Savory Cocktails, Greg Henry — Greg is a food and drink writer based in Los Angeles. His collection of savory cocktails rounds up mostly contemporary drinks in chapters focusing on sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, rich, and strong. This is a very culinary approach to cocktails, and many of the recipes will require some shopping or preparation. They look like they’re worth the effort. A couple beer cocktails, including a take on the Dog’s Nose garnished with porcini mushroom powder, I have bookmarked for trying soon.

My own Golden Lion and Smokejumper are included, along with classics, Greg’s originals, and contributions from other notable bartenders. Greg is also a professional photographer and the book is very attractively shot. Definitely recommended for fans of strong, unusual flavors and those willing to put some work into making fantastic drinks.

Mezcal: Under the Spell of Firewater, Louis E. V. Nevaer — Where to begin with this one? A friend alerted me that my Mexican Train mezcal cocktail appeared in this book, so I ordered a copy expecting a solid introductory guide to the spirit. How could I have anticipated that Mezcal 101 would include a chapter on mezcal and sex?

You deserve just the right kind of mezcal. The kind that will make your nipples erect and irresistible to your partner. (Who needs ice cubes when you have mezcal on hand?) The kind that will make oral sex explode like fireworks. The kind that will mix with the taste of sweat, and salt, and the pheromones that emanate from each other’s nether regions to create something that, if it were to be bottled, would sell millions of flasks at Bergdorf Goodman.

If I’d written a chapter like that, perhaps The Cocktail Collective would have sold better. So maybe this book could have used a little editing, but in few spirits guides does the voice of the other come through so directly. It’s a slim volume, very offbeat, and you may find better resources for straightforward, factual information about mezcal. That said, it’s a fun book, and would probably be a useful reference if you’re visiting Oaxaca (which I’ve yet to do). The recipes for mixing and cooking with mezcal are also intriguing.

The Cocktail Hour: Whiskey, Brandy, and Tequila, Scout Books — You may remember Portland-based publisher Scout Books’ first trilogy of pocket cocktail guides, devoted to vodka, gin, and rum. They’re back with a sequel collection for the spirits above, once again featuring recipes from a bunch of mostly West Coast bartenders and writers, along with charming illustrations.

As with the first collection, I’m giving away a few sets of this new one to a few lucky blog commenters. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post, one comment per person, before the end of the day this Friday (PST). On Saturday I’ll randomly select three winners and send them the set of books.

Comments

  1. Felicia Heaton says:

    Fantastic, Jacob! Which one has step-by-step instructions on bone luging? Or, do you need a professional luge model for the next publication?

  2. Matt Lanning says:

    so, if one combines the bone luge and the mezcal, shall we expect increased results?

  3. Rafa says:

    Stew’s book is full of great recipes and very smartly constructed. I don’t own a copy, but I’ve been meaning to check out his list of 16 Greatest Cocktails in Creation for a while. The rest of these books look amazing!

  4. Robert Juall says:

    I’m excited for Savory Cocktails. Totally my thing.

  5. Looks like I need to find some Fernet Branca and give the Shift a try…

  6. Dara says:

    The important question that always gets ignored in cocktail book or cookbook reviews: how resistant are the pages to getting spilled on, stained or sticky? #klutzproblems

  7. Olivier says:

    I like the variations too on 901 cocktails book, like the English Rose vs. the Irish Rose. Need to check out the other books on your list (that’s great!).

    I’d love to get the giveaway, but the real treat will be when “Cocktails on Tap” is published, I can buy it, and have you sign it (along with a drink :) ).

  8. J Haines says:

    I’ve been neglecting my liquor cabinet more than I like to admit. Some fun reading and new drinks to try might be just the spark to remedy that situation…

  9. Jill O. says:

    Always looking for great cocktail recipes. The GF these days is really into the bitter liquer/sweet vermouth combos, though those tend to be a bit too medicinal for my palate. I’ve been looking for cognac based drinks myself, especially since I discovered Pierre Ferrand (which makes an ambrosial sidecar).

  10. Phil DeVasto says:

    Ahhh, the smokerjumper, one of Portland;s best cocktails! I need to get back in soon, when is Aquavit week?

  11. Andrea says:

    Second time I’m reading about Savory Cocktails, think I’ll have to order it.

  12. Roy Arias says:

    They all sound great! I don’t know which to pickup first.

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