Readers can bone up on the lore of iconic cocktails while they learn how to make them with this mixological primer.
Oh, a London bartender, offers an encyclopedic overview of noted drinks, from the absinthe frappé (concocted of absinthe, sugar syrup, and soda water) to the zombie (a symphony of gold rum, Jamaican rum, Demarra rum, lime juice, falernum, absinthe, angostura bitters, grenadine, white grapefruit juice, and cinnamon syrup). The author tackles icons like the Manhattan and the margarita along with obscure gems like the monkey gland, which was inspired, it is averred, by a Russian doctor who pioneered primate-to-human testicle transplants. Each alphabetical entry gives simple recipes for making the drink and its major variants along with deep drafts of backstory on its origins and naming quirks—the Alaska was invented in South Carolina, it seems, and the coffee cocktail has no coffee—as well as the bartender(s) who developed it and famous barflies who imbibed it. Hemingway, of course, is the book’s presiding spirit. Readers meet him drinking mojitos at La Bodeguita, daiquiris at El Floridita, and Bellinis at Harry’s Bar in Venice and composing his own cocktail, the Death in the Afternoon, from absinthe and Champagne. Like any good barroom discourse, Oh’s beguiling work happily dives into arcane trivia. “Martin Cate makes a compelling case that the Martinique style rum Vic was talking about was not the AOC rhum agricoles we assume from Martinique (made with pressed sugar cane juice) but rather molasses based ‘rhum traditionnels,’ ” the author explains in a passage on the provenance of the mai tai that will satisfy the cognoscenti. But his writing finds poetry in every aspect of a drink, from the serving temperature (“An ice-cold Martini is like the first sip of water for a desert strandee—nectar from the gods; a warm one is a human rights violation”) to mixing techniques (“Always stir a Martini; it should be limpid, liquid silk—not aerated and light from shaking”). The volume is also a feast for the eyes, with color photographs by Bragg and an amber color scheme that draws the eye like the glowing depths of a whiskey bottle. Readers will savor Oh’s prose as much as they do the libations that flow from his recipes.
A sparkling handbook for bartenders and aficionados, full of intriguing information and literary charm.