This petite volume describes itself as “An A-to-Z Guide to Spirits, Cocktails, and Wine with 115 Recipes for the World’s Great Drinks.” And in 330 pages author Jennifer Fiedler delivers on every part of that description.
Suzen and I collect bar books, always looking for new beverage variations and more cocktail history. Mankind has expended great effort on crafting beverages and The Essential Bar Book is a tribute to the history of alcohol consumption. This particular book does not come with “brand” new cocktails ideas. Instead, that list of 115 great beverages includes lovely ideas, some classics whose name will ring familiar, and some gems lost for decades and now rediscovered and refurbished.
For example, in 1911 the Aviation was created, only to be out of favor when one of the ingredients, crème de violette, went out of production decades later. That liqueur is now available again or, as Jennifer suggests, you can make do with a little sugar syrup.
The Aviation is a distinctly tart and bright beverage:
Yield: serves 1
- 2 ounces gin
- ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ¼ ounce crème de violette or simple sugar syrup
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish, if you desire, with a brandied cherry.
The A-to-Z list is extensive with short, punctuated definitions for terms both familiar and less so. Wine classifications, descriptions of liqueurs [all those herb Italian things you can find stacked on liquor store shelves], brewing and winemaking terms, and even glassware are tackled in the A-to-Z list. For example, the Aviation can be served in a coupe glass. Coupe glass? Right on Page 75 you learn that the squat bowl-shaped glass was created for serving sweet warm champagne, the style in the mid-sixteenth century.
Styles of serving and sipping champagne have certainly shifted in five hundred years, but the coupe survives as part of our beverage heritage. Even if you don’t have a term you want to look up, it’s fun to stroll down the pages of The Essential Bar Book and treat the experience as a treasure hunt.
And, as a benefit, you might discover old friends. I have had Gimlets before, but off the top of my head I could not tell you what goes in one. It’s a Daiquiri with the rum gone and gin substituted in. Then lime juice and simple syrup. It’s a totally different flavor experience but one Suzen and I found perfect for shrimp that had been rendered hot and spicy with adobo and chile powder. I would not have considered the Gimlet if I had not been happily comparing cocktail recipes.
And the origins of the Gimlet? British sailors needed a daily dose of lime juice to prevent scurvy. Drinking lime juice is awkward. Add some gin and sugar and all the scurvy worries seem to go away.
You’ll enjoy The Essential Bar Book, both for the intriguing details it provides and for the drinks that invite you to pick up your cocktail shaker. Think of these drinks as something like the Gimlet: preventative medicine.