Gin: A Global History, Lesley Jacobs Solmonson — One of the challenges confronting a cocktail writer is finding ways to make drinks sound interesting day after day. Anyone can write a recipe, but presenting it memorably with context and story is a rarer talent. Few pull it off as well as the husband and wife team of David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, authors of the 12 Bottle Bar cocktail blog. Lesley has put that talent to work in a new book chronicling the history of gin.
In my job as a brand ambassador I’m immersed in gin and genever (not literally — OK, sometimes literally) but I still learned a great deal from reading this. It’s the best presentation I’ve come across explaining the stylistic evolution of juniper spirits from early, medicinally-inspired Dutch genever to the old toms of England, then to London dry and the botanically diverse gins made by contemporary distillers. The story is enhanced with many illustrations reaching back to gin’s earliest days and concludes with a selection of essential cocktails. Highly recommended for gin enthusiasts.
The PDT Cocktail Book, Jim Meehan — Leave aside the recipes for the moment: This books raises the bar for quality on its production values alone. Omitting photographs in favor of colorful illustrations by Chris Gall, this is easily the prettiest volume on my cocktail bookshelf.
But, of course, the recipes are stellar too. There are more than 300 of them, some classics but mostly originals from the renowned PDT speakeasy in New York. It’s a fantastic snapshot of how one of the best bars in the world operates at the top of its game; there’s plenty here to keep one busy trying new things.
The only difficulty with this book is that Meehan specifies brands for every recipe. This is useful for knowing exactly how they make the drinks at PDT, but it’s not always easy to tell when a substitution would be welcome or when a specific brand is essential to a cocktail. Readers will have to use their judgment or else do a lot of shopping; some guidance in the notes would have been a welcome addition. Nevertheless, this is an instant classic. If you reference cocktail books, you should own this.
Beer Cocktails, Howard and Ashley Stetzer — A collection of beer cocktail recipes is obviously a book that’s going to interest me. The publisher sent me a copy of this one and I’m grateful for the chance to look through it. The drinks run the gamut of beer styles, the recipes are clearly written with brief but entertaining introductions, and the photography is appealing.
There’s somewhat less variety in the spirits used. Allspice dram and Root liqueur show up surprisingly often in a book of fifty recipes, as do nut-flavored liqueurs. A few of the ingredients — vodka, PBR or similar mass market lagers, 99 Bananas — strike me as missed opportunities, but that’s a matter of personal preference. I’m also left thinking the book may have benefited from more research into beer cocktails from other writers and bartenders; the authors’ Sympathy for the Devil, a mixture of gin and Duvel with an absinthe rinse, is nearly identical to Stephen Beaumont’s Green Devil cocktail. This is likely an honest mistake, but it was jarring to see it.
There are bright spots too, including some of the classic beer drinks that the Stelzers include. I like their Knickertwister, which combines sweet and dry vermouth with allspice dram, orange bitters, and IPA (mixing vermouth and beer is underexplored territory). I’m also eager to try their Sleepy Hollow flip, which calls for rye, apple brandy, maple syrup, a whole egg, and pumpkin ale; it sounds delicious, but I’ll have to wait for pumpkin beers to come back into season to give it a go. I have several other recipes marked to try out in the future.
There’s a lot to try here and I’m glad to see beer cocktails, which are popping up on more and more menus, getting a whole book devoted to their creation. Definitely recommended if you’d like to explore more ways of mixing spirits and beer. Follow the authors’ blog too at Beyond the Shadow of a Stout.