My love (and obsession) with cocktails started when I moved to NYC in 2012. Of all the “craft” movements from craft coffee to artisanal breads, the cocktail renaissance is my favorite. New York considers itself to be the center of many universes, but when it comes to cocktail culture I don’t think the NYC narcissism is wrong. New York’s history, Prohibition, and urban drinking culture create the perfect mix of ideas that make this city the capital of all things cocktail. And in terms of the actual experience, innovative restaurants are fascinating but there’s nothing quite like walking down a busy NYC sidewalk, walking through a door, pulling aside a velvet speakeasy curtain, and sitting down next to an old friend on a Victorian-style couch with the tinkly sounds of a cocktail bar in the background. 🙂
Over the past few years I’ve been collecting books and making many cocktails from them. As my collection has grown, I’ve become very attached to flipping through the beautiful photos as opposed to searching Pinterest or All Recipes. Below are some of my favorite books so far– broken out with thoughts on difficulty and adventure.
The Drunken Botanist
The Drunken Botanist is a great book for when I want to understand the details on how a spirit or liqueur is made or originated. I love this book because it mixes a botany lesson in with fascinating histories of cultures connected to alcohol.
One of my favorite passages in The Drunken Botanist talks about potatoes and how the English used to think it was a food only fit for peasants. Crazy to think of that fact when you consider how many potatoes we consume today from booze to food!
This *gorgeous* book is the best one I’ve ever found for all of the essential and basic cocktails. From old fashioneds, to negronis, to mojitos, this book has everything you need and it’s an experience to flip through it.
New York Times Book of Cocktails
Difficulty: Ranges from * to ***
If you’re going to buy only one cocktail book, the New York Times Book of Cocktails is the one you want– it was published this fall and I am completely obsessed with it. It’s so fun to decide on a cocktail one night and then read an entire essay on the history of the margarita or a columnist’s quest to find the perfect martini. Some of my favorite snippets come from Kingsley Amis essays:
“Serving good drinks, like anything worthwhile, from a poem to a motor car, is troublesome and expensive.”
“The first, indeed the only, requirement of a diet is that it should lose you weight without reducing your alcoholic intake by the smallest degree.”
On why serious drinkers should own a separate refrigerator for their implements: “Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a claim on, even its ice compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food.”
The book is divided up by classic cocktails from the mojito to the negroni and each cocktail has a “perfect” original recipe and then there are directions and matrixes to mix it up. The derivatives from the originals usually have additional notes on the bar or region that came up with the new drink as well. (I love the essay on the Mexican Martini that came out of Austin, TX in the margarita section.)
If you’ve got the basic cocktails down and want to start getting more adventurous, Shake is a book for you. The book is written by a couple guys from Brooklyn (of course :P) and is broken up by season. I love books broken out by seasons because it’s so easy to find a drink that fits a specific mood for the time of year. Shake also calls for a lot of seasonal herbs and fruits like sage, lavender, and rosemary.
Sean and I also used a recipe from the Shake book for one of our signature cocktails at our wedding. 🙂
Punch Bowls and Pitcher Drinks
This book is wonderful because all of the recipes are perfect for parties and entertaining. Sometimes it can be a little tricky to find recipes that translate well to big batches. Similar to Shake, this book calls for surprising fresh ingredients like persimmons or hibiscus flowers that add extra dimensions to drinks.
I made this pumpkin patch drink for a team retreat we had recently. The spiced rum, pumpkin ale, and nutmeg are SO good together. Definitely don’t recommend replacing cinnamon sticks with ground cinnamon though. It all floats to the top without constant stirring. 🙂
The Craft Cocktail Party
The Craft Cocktail Party is slightly more advanced than the previous books because it calls for liqueurs and ingredients that you might not stock in a basic bar. It’s a bit more adventurous than the previous books but the extra effort is 100% worth it. I love reading author Julie Reiner’s backstories on specific drinks in how they relate to her life, the history of NYC, or the history of drinking.
The book is another that is divided up based on seasons, but The Craft Cocktail Party also has specific drinks for holidays like Thanksgiving or Repeal Day. We made this Port of Call cocktail for Thanksgiving and used some spoonfuls of the cranberry sauce we were making for the turkey. :)(Recipe because photo is blurry: 1oz gin, 1oz ruby port, 3/4oz lemon juice, 1/2oz cinnamon syrup, 1 teaspoon cranberry preserves/sauce, crushed ice. Garnish: mint sprig and 1 raspberry. (We used cranberries on cocktail swords.))
While this book is more than a cocktail book, it was one of the things that got me to start infusing liquors with herbs, fruits, teas and spices. Written by the same guys who wrote Shake, I love the recipes for alcohol, oil, and water it includes.
Cocktails on Tap
This book is another that gives ideas for creating innovative variations on classic cocktails by adding beer. I love beer a lot but sometimes it just feels so boring to pop one out of the fridge and simply drink it– I like to have a bit of to-do beforehand.
This book is especially good for people who don’t like super sweet drinks. Usually I don’t enjoy the sugary drinks but I’ve found that when you add a beer, it dilutes the sweetness enough to make it delicious.
When I was contemplating buying this book, the thing that pushed me over the edge was a description of how Thomas Jefferson used to love drinking shrubs. Shrubs are vinegar-based syrups that make alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks more interesting and refreshing. They’re really great to drink in the summer because there is something surprisingly crisp about drinking vinegar. (It’s a lot more like a complex lemon or lime juice than the pickle vinegar flavor that most people conjure up when thinking about the liquid.)
Wild Cocktails from the Midnight Apothecary
While this book is definitely for advanced and ambitious cocktail enthusiasts, it’s one of my favorites. The drinks in this book take some hunting and a lot of planning, but for me it’s a huge part of the fun.
The most recent drink I’ve made from this book is the Woodland Martini.
How to make a foraged woodland cocktail in the middle of Manhattan: 1.) Buy a Christmas tree on the sidewalk outside a bodega. 2.) Clip twiglets before significant other realizes what you're doing. 3.) Put twiglets in blender with vodka and let sit 4 days. 4.) Light sage on fire and make honey syrup. 5.) Drink with a sleepy puppy on your lap.
The drink is SO. SO. Good. After all of the insane directions and ingredients, I was a little skeptical that the pine needles would taste more like Pine Sol than anything drink-related. But this cocktail is delicious and the most seasonal thing you could possible imbibe in December.
Mz. Pimm Pup is always watching. 🙂
With the advice from Infuse + Wild Cocktails, I’ve also been growing my collection of homemade spirits. (Got the bottles here!)
As my cocktail book collection grows, I will keep updating this post. Cocktail making (and drinking :P) is one of my favorite hobbies these days and this cocktail renaissance we’re living in only makes things more exciting. 🙂