The Year in Boozy Books
Considering the subject matter, until recently, most books about the libations of the world have been rather… dry. However, reading about all things bibulous has become a lot more interesting in the past several years, and 2014 has been a banner year among them. Some exceptional releases were published, and it was a pleasure (in more ways than one, more on that later) to read them. Here’s a list of standouts:
Brooklyn Spirits: Craft Distilling and Cocktails From the World’s Hippest Borough, by Peter Thomas Fornatale and Chris Wertz: In this gorgeously photographed and laid out tome, Fornatale and Wertz (who also happens to be a contributor to this publication) take readers on an insider tour of the distilleries on the forefront of the independent spirits scene through intimate interviews with Jackie Summers of Jack From Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur; Daric Schlesselman and Sarah Ludington of Van Brunt Stillhouse; Brad Estabrooke of Breuckelen Distilling; Bridget Firtle of The Noble Experiment; Allen Katz of NY Distilling Company, Nicole Austin of Kings County Distillery, Steven DeAngelo of Greenhook Ginsmiths and others. We also pull up a stool to chat with the bartenders and owners of such establishments as Long Island Bar, Tooker Alley, The Shanty, Post Office, the Good Fork, Sidecar, Dram, Fort Defiance, Clover Club, The Richardson, Noorman’s Kil and dozens of others, and they were kind enough to share recipes too. The beautifully written text reads like a great night at your local sharing meaningful words and delicious drinks with your favorite bar keep. These are underdog success stories that don’t merely appeal to the pride of being a Brooklyner, but share valuable information about starting a liquor business and practicing great hospitality in general. Shut the nightlight because: will give Brooklyn locals a sense of inadequacy for not visiting as many of the bars as the authors did. Page turner because: overall presentation and intimacy with the subject matter.
The Spirit of Gin: a Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival, by Matt Teacher: Gin is an old story with a new global interest. Teacher tells the tale by providing historical background, profiling gin brands and distilleries and visiting bars that specialize in gin cocktails in both Europe and across the US. Readers gain a newfound familiarity with gin in all its various forms (genever, Old Tom, London Dry, etc.) while time traveling from its old world beginnings through Prohibition to the present day gin-aissance and stopping for a nightcap here and there. There are recipes for classic gin cocktails as well as new ones, plus bios of gin products past and present. It’s not only a terrific reference for the gin lover, but an excellent tool for cocktail enthusiasts in general. Reason to turn out the nightlight: modern day vignettes are jarringly placed smack in the middle of the more historical sections, creating somewhat of a disconnect instead of the intended comparison. Page turner because: it’s painstakingly thorough while balancing approachable language.
Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchild and Alex Day. OK, telling people to pick up this book is probably the literary equivalent of recommending Veuve Clicquot at New Year’s. However, no 2014 best of book list could possibly leave it off. Why? It is hands down, coupes up, one of the most informative cocktail books in the history of cocktail books. Not only do the team behind one of New York City’s most influential bars share the drink recipes that put them on the map, such as the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, Joy Division, Naked and Famous and the Conference, but also the drinks and methodology that made the place possible to begin with, making it one of the most thorough and well organized cocktail compendiums in existence. Along with the drink recipes, there are also ones for DIY syrups and infusions, as well as excellent references for the categories of spirits, bitters and other ingredients; garnishes and rims and suggested reading. But one of the best things about this book is that it was clearly written as a heartfelt tribute to the people who made Death & Co the smashing success that it is. We all know that some of NYC’s most globally famous bartenders scratched their jiggers there, such as Joaquín Símo, Phil Ward, Eryn Reece, Brad Farran, Thomas Waugh, Jessica Gonzalez, Brian Miller and of course, Kaplan and Day themselves. The book also goes above and beyond to profile the bar’s favorite regulars too. Page turner because: We’re even treated to a time lapse night in the life of service and a handy guide to back bar slang. Reason to turn out the nightlight: Now it’s harder to get into the actual place than ever.
Cocktails With a Tryst, by Cheri Loughlin: This ain’t no walk of shame, this is a straight up book of erotica with cocktail recipes! To paraphrase Loughlin, who goes by the handle The Intoxicologist, desire is stirred while thirst is quenched. Each short story is accompanied with two cocktail recipes that pair with the narrative theme. The various encounters explore many sides of sexual fantasy, even making painful hair removal sound kind of hot, that is, under the right circumstances (and with a functioning door lock.) And if you’re not into that sort of thing, well, perhaps just a sensual salon shampoo then, complete with fizzy cocktails. Turn out the nightlight because: almost all the stories are written in the second person, which gets a bit flat. Also the cocktails skew toward the sweet realm and could use more stirring bitters encounters for variety. Page turner because: great photography and fun attention to detail that isn’t in obvious places.
Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide To the Water of Life, by Heather Greene: People get flummoxed about whisky. There’s so much of it, and so many categories to choose from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at first. Sometimes you just need someone to take your hand, shove a glass in it and steer you on the right path. Greene, a former brand ambassador and the whisky sommelier at New York City’s Flatiron Room, is that perfect guide. Using relatable language (at times laugh out loud funny, especially when describing “summer” in Scotland), she shows you how to go about tasting whisky and the flavor and aroma nuances to look out for. She also breaks down the categories and production methods, describing in depth many of the great whiskies of the world, even clarifying how to interpret what’s on a label. Furthermore, she likes a good whisky cocktail, and the book features some excellent recipes both new and classic. Both novices and seasoned whisky drinkers will love it. Reason to turn out the nightlight: such solid writing deserves way better images, especially more of them in color. Page turner because: Greene once and for all obliterates the reputation of whisky as a men’s club only beverage. She also understands that tasting is subjective, demonstrating there are no wrong answers - everyone likes different things - and that’s O.K.
Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide To the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits, by Lew Bryson: This is actually the perfect compliment to Greene’s book above. They both fly in the face of pretension, allowing readers to choose their own whisky adventure once some of the basics are covered. Bryson, a lecturer, feature writer and managing editor of Whisky Advocate, does a wonderful job describing whisky and how to taste it, even delving into the scientific reasons for why things taste the way they do. Readers are taken on some great adventures to distilleries around the world, and the information is incredibly thorough. There are also plenty of informative charts and other useful visual aids (my personal favorite is How Storage Location Affects the Flavor of Bourbon), and tons of handy lists such as the breakdown of flavor profiles for various iconic bottlings of scotch, bourbon, Irish, Canadian and other categories. Bryson also discusses cocktails, but instead of providing exact recipes and short instructions, he reveals in short essay format his personal favorite methods for making them at home. The subtitle of the book is perfect - at the end, the reader really does feel as though they’ve gone on an exclusive journey into the whisky world. Page turner because: chock full of fun to read personal and historic accounts. Reason to turn out the night light: you need more whisky!
Lastly, a most honorable mention goes to Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft by our staff writer Kevin Gibson. Page turner because: the story of the rise and fall and rise again of Louisville's beer history could be a Hollywood script, it's that fascinating and juicy. For more please click here.