Last year, I suggested five essential cocktail books, ones that I thought offered a mix of cocktail theory and a great selection of recipes.
Now it's time to expand your library again, but this time I'm taking a different approach. Some of the books in today's guide offer cocktail recipes, but more importantly, they tell great stories. Every author in today's mix is a great raconteur, each with a unique and fascinating voice. These books scratch the surface of cocktail and drinking history, while exploring imbibing customs both in the United States and around the world.
These books aren't necessarily reference manuals, in terms of giving you quick, handy access to tons of cocktail recipes. The books in the previous cocktail guide are excellent for that purpose. This time, I've chosen great writers with funny or interesting things to say.
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury
As I said, Embury's opinionated, and not everyone agrees with him on all points. For example, he argues vehemently in favor of a 1:2:8 ratio when mixing sours such as the Sidecar: one part sweet (Cointreau), two parts sour (lemon juice) and eight parts base ingredient (cognac). I don't know anyone who prefers Sidecars made this way; they're bone-dry. Embury's book is full of recipes, but you might want to use them more for general guidance than for exact measurement. Agree with his recipes or not, you'll still learn from him. I consider this to be one of the most important books in my cocktail library. The book was initially published in 1948 and was out of print for decades until Mud Puddle Books resurrected it in 2008. My copy is a first edition, which my wife bought for a pittance from someone who apparently had no idea what he or she had, and I'll never part with it.
The Hour by Bernard DeVoto
Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis by Kingsley Amis
The book is most famous, perhaps, for introducing the concept of the "metaphysical hangover," that feeling of dread, depression, and misery that descends upon you the minute you realize how physically wrecked you feel when you wake up in the afternoon after a long bout of boozing. Amis also provides invaluable advice on how to economize when having guests over—for example, he suggests serving a lot of (cheap) food to fill up stomachs and make less room for wine. Whether you take his advice to heart or not, the book is nevertheless an enjoyable read; Amis even includes cocktail recipes, although I must say, you should take those with a shaker of salt. Some of them are rather vile, in fact. No one's perfect. Finally, should you need to test your knowledge of gods' nectars, the book ends with a series of quizzes; if you can pass them all, you probably drink too much, which is in itself good knowledge to have.
Jigger, Beaker, & Glass: Drinking Around the World by Charles H. Baker Jr.
Charles H. Baker Jr. was a writer, magazine editor, and world traveler. He married an heiress to a mining fortune and with her wealth spent many years traveling and compiling food and drink traditions from around the world. Baker traveled and drank with Faulkner and Hemingway. He published The Gentlemen's Companion in 1939; a vintage set of the original edition sells for hundreds of dollars today, but this reissue, from 1992, is available for much less. Baker's number-one fan is St. John Frizell, writer and owner of Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Frizell writes of Baker's recipes that "some are comically impractical," and it's true. Many of Baker's cocktail recipes are forgettable, unfortunately, but that takes nothing away from the yarns he spins. (One recipe that is certainly worth remembering, and enjoying right now, is called Remember the Maine, and don't you forget it.)
How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well by Eric Felten
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What did I miss? Who are your favorite cocktail storytellers? Feel free to call out your cocktail book essentials in the comments!