Serious Reads: The American Cocktail vs. The Seasonal Cocktail Companion
The recent cocktail resurgence has followed a somewhat predictable trajectory. First, there was a general interest in the art of cocktails. Recipes were shared and gleaming bar tools procured. Next, niche interests developed: classic cocktails, artisan cocktails, DIY cocktails. Now, with the publication of two new cocktail books, The American Cocktail and The Seasonal Cocktail Companion, we've reached the pinnacle (or so it seems)—cocktails have gone local, and seasonal, too.
The American Cocktail: 50 Recipes that Celebrate the Craft of Mixing Drinks from Coast to Coast was written by the editors of Imbibe Magazine. Imbibe is a glossy mag that covers beverages of all sorts: Wine, spirits, beer, coffee, tea. It's a periodical that has managed to thrive in tough times by reporting on the particular joy that come from being a beverage geek. Thus, it's no surprise that Imbibe would choose to indulge our inner mixologist by giving us a regional take on the cocktail movement.
The book offers fifty recipes for revamped signature drinks from five regions of the United States (the South, Northeast, Midwest, West, and West Coast). Recipes were shared by bartenders from each region, and often feature ingredients that are locally made. The Stumptown Vanilla Flip hails from Seattle's Liberty Bar and features ½ ounce of freshly brewed (ideally Stumptown) espresso; a Mint Apple Crisp from New York's PDT features Hart of Hudson apple vodka and a fanned apple slice garnish.
I was particularly taken with the section focused on the non-coastal western states, an area that has yet to be recognized on the national level for its varied and interesting food culture. I'm partial to that swath of the map (born and bred in Utah), and I loved that the drinks in this section used native ingredients (like cactus, jalapeno, agave, and sage) to create sips that evoked the landscape. My only wish? That more of the cocktails were updated versions of historic favorites instead of simply being inspired by regional nuance.
The Seasonal Cocktail Companion: 100 Recipes & Projects for 4 Seasons of Drinking by Maggie Savarino is a charming book. It's small enough to fit in your bag, and if you just glanced at the cover, you might think the inside contained instructions for how to make the perfect breakfast scone or embellish an apron with colorful thread. But this book offers instructions of another sort, a season-by-season toolkit for stocking your bar straight from your local farmer's market.
The idea is a good one: locavores plan meals according to what's fresh in the market; cocktails should be similarly inspired. Unfortunately, the book left me a bit overwhelmed. There are few photos in this book, so when it came time to flip through the pages and choose a drink, I was left to navigate through the seasons, read the lengthy headnotes, and hope my fridge and bar was appropriately stocked.
Ultimately, I haven't made anything yet from The Seasonal Cocktail Companion, though I did spend an entire afternoon thinking about making my own sugar cubes. (Savarino swears it isn't too hard!). The strong DIY focus to this book makes me wonder if crafty, garden-growing mixologists are the intended audience for this book. There are recipes for boozy infusions, artisan bitters, syrups, salts, sugars, and seasonal garnishes. For the rest of us—those without an herb garden or hours to spend concocting small batch grenadine—there's little hope for instant gratification. I garnished my evening Jack Rose with a floating sage leaf, but somehow I don't think that's what Savarino had in mind.
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.