Book Review: Drink & Tell, A Boston Cocktail Book

Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.

Fred Yarm knows how to drink in Boston. If you follow his blog Cocktail Virgin/Slut, you already know this. Now he's put his tippling expertise into print in his new book Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book.

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The cocktail scene in Boston is thriving, and not just at nationally known bars such as Drink and Eastern Standard, but also at dozens of lesser known bars and restaurants around the city.

Drink & Tell leads the reader through the Boston-area scene, stopping at bars in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Allston, and South Boston. The book starts with a neighborhood-by-neighborhood look at the craft-cocktail scene, and then presents over 500 recipes from those bars.

The recipes are presented alphabetically by drink name. The book's layout is clean and easy to read, with notes that provide a brief history of each drink, mentioning the bartender who created it and the venue where it was created. The notes are brief, though, and don't explain how the drink tastes or how the bartender happened to come up with the recipe. I don't consider that a flaw of the book; space is limited, after all. But if you're looking for those details, you won't find them here.

(Most, if not all, of these recipes are edited down from blog posts at the Cocktail Virgin site, and Yarm offers some of those details in his online write-ups.)

The recipes are easy to follow; the ingredients are listed in order, and the directions are clearly written. An appendix at the back provides recipes for all the syrups used in the drinks. A note after each syrup recipe directs you to the drink(s) in which the syrup is used.

Having imbibed in Boston cocktail bars on many occasions, I was eager to try a recipe from the book. I wanted to find something fun and even a little whimsical. I feel that often cocktails are Very Serious Business, and I wanted to find a recipe that returns the pleasure and enjoyment to cocktails. I settled on the Darkside Iced Tea, which was inspired by the Long Island Iced Tea, and which uses rum, rye, and Fernet Branca as its base ingredients. Check out the recipe here »

An index in the back lists each drink under the venue where it first appeared. This index is one of the book's few missteps. An index like this might appeal to someone who's familiar with Boston and its cocktail bars, but I'm not sure how useful it is for people outside the scene. I'd be more interested in an index that grouped each drink under the name of the bartender who created it, and I'd be even more enthusiastic about an index grouped by base spirit. If I'm using the book as a recipe guide, I'm more likely to want, say, a gin cocktail than one created at, say, Green Street.

Aside from that, Drink & Tell is an excellent tour of Boston's cocktail world, and a fine look at local dedication to quality and innovation. Some of the best bartenders in the country are working in Boston, and they deserve a wider spotlight. Cheers to Yarm for providing it.