Serious Eats: Drinks

Serious Reads: See Mix Drink vs. DIY Cocktails

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Thanks to the recent Ken Burns documentary about Prohibition and the eagerly awaited fifth season of Mad Men, the fervor over cocktails has reached a fever pitch. For most people, sophisticated sipping is mitigated by personal economy—one simply can't enjoy drinks out on the town every single night. Moreover, why would you want to? Having friends over for a nightcap is infinitely cozier than fighting for a place at a cool bar, even if they do have notable secret recipes.

Two recently released books: See Mix Drink: A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Crafting the World's Most Popular Cocktails by Brian D. Murphy; and DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren are aimed at the budding home mixologist. We put both books to the test.

The two books embody a similar concept: The authors want to teach us how easy it is to make good mixed drinks at home. Yet these books are as different as a martini made with gin versus one made with vodka.

DIY Cocktails embraces the zeitgeist. This book is the Hipster-Etsy-Do-It-Yourself guide to home cocktail making. The book is aimed at those of hearty spirit: the ones that like to learn about ratios, make their own syrups, and then set off on their own, guidebook in hand, to create their own magic.

The chapters in this book are divided in two ways, both by class (Tropical Drinks, The Original Cocktail, and Elegant Sips) and by ratio of strong to sweet to sour. The idea, of course, is that once you understand both the flavors you like and the ratios used to compose your favorite drinks, you can use this knowledge to create exotic and tasty cocktails of your own. And, these DIY creations will be good because you understand the principals of mixing. Thankfully, for those of us on the slow path to mixology greatness, drink recipes are written in both traditional quantities as well as the ratios.

See Mix Drink is a rebellion against so-called conventional cocktail books. Built almost entirely on graphics, it tosses the text-laden cocktail guide aside in favor of visual learning. There is color coding. There are visual instructions. There are keys and graphs. It should be simple but it sounds complicated, right?

True, the first few pages had me hyperventilating—What does all this mean? But after reading the two-page guide on 'How to Use This Book', which essentially encourages one to gather the proper tools and ingredients and breathe, I immediately skipped ahead. First came champagne cocktails (perhaps the easiest of them all). Next, the Negroni, my signature drink.

Like in DIY Cocktails, knowledge of ratios is important when using See Mix Drink, but perhaps because it's laid out visually and in recipe form, making a cocktail seems easier than with the other book. Take the Negroni. See Mix Drink claims that once you've gathered the gin, sweet vermouth, Campari, and orange wedge, it takes 2 and a half minutes to compose this drink. I couldn't find a true cocktail neophyte to time, but given the real simplicity of the instructions, it seemed wholly plausible. [An aside: See Mix Drink also tells me that my Negroni will weigh in at a light-ish 189 calories. Is this information I really want to have? I've yet to decide.]

Of course, as fun as cocktail making is, nothing is as good as getting your evening drink delivered to you while you lounge on the couch with a good book. So, if training a home mixologist is your goal, a copy of See Mix Drink will have you getting Mai Tais, Salzeracs, and Alabama Slammers on silver platters in no time.

No additional instructions needed.

About the author: Anne Zimmerman
is a writer in San Francisco Her first book, An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, was published in March 2011. You can read more about her work here or here. Follow her on Twitter at @poeticappetite.

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