by: David Wondrich
For several years now, David Wondrich has been the cocktail expert at Esquire magazine. In addition to writing articles on cocktails and other strong drinks for the magazine, he writes the “Drink of the Week” column for Esquire.com, and provides appropriate advice to the various other editors of the magazine for their articles.
Recently, Dave felt compelled to dust off the long forgotten tradition that Esquire once had of providing insights and recipes, replete with a little wit and humor, to aid the hobbyist mixologist in better understanding the craft. With his foundations firmly rooted in such greats as the “Gentleman’s Companion” by Charles Baker, “On Drink” by Kingley Amis, and “The Bartenders Book” by Jack Townsend and Tom McBride, he felt the muse within him urging him forward. Of course he also had an ulterior motive of hoping that maybe, just maybe, such a book might increase the likelihood of being able to order drinks that weren’t hiding behind the spirit-obscuring clouds of too much sweetness or fruit juice flavors that were reminiscent of grade school days.
In this, his first book, Dave presents a carefully selected collection of about 250 drinks that he feels reflect the essence of what a cocktail truly is. As he describes it: “A true cocktail should take the pronounced, even pungent, flavor of a liquor and, through careful blending with aromatics, acids, and essences, transform it, without erasing it, into something smooth and bracing and unlike anything else.”
The collection begins with what he refers to as “The Four Pillars of Wisdom”: The Old Fashioned, Martini, Manhattan, and Daiquiri. These four drinks are what Dave uses as examples of what a finely crafted cocktail should aspire to. Instead of simply dropping the recipes onto the page, and letting you try to sort it out for yourself, he also presents compelling and useful information that covers various aspects of each drink that can help you better appreciate them and their place in your repertoire.
From this start, he continues on with a parade of drinks that are equally presented with carefully tuned recipes, and a personal dissertation regarding their purpose and stature. This list will include many drinks you will of course recognize (Cosmopolitan, Sazerac, Caipirinha, Sidecar) as well as many you may not (Asylum, Esquire, Batiste, Dulchin). Throughout the book you will find luscious and entertaining photographs and graphics, as well as titbits of general cocktail lore and wisdom. Especially fun are the random appearances of “Rules” that are peppered throughout the pages. (Rule #57: A cocktail should not take you back to your childhood, unless of course you grew up in a bar)
The focus of this book is probably aimed more toward the home, or hobbyist bartender, but the information it contains can definitely provide even the seasoned bartender with some background and appreciation of classic recipes that might have fallen by the wayside in the last few years. It also provides an entertaining read.