Book Review: The Cocktail Guide to the Galaxy
Since the late '90s, nerd culture has been slowly picking up steam. The comics boom created new universes to explore, Magic: the Gathering was starting to pick up steam, and fantasy sports were just getting onto the radar. This was a time when craft cocktails and beers were just starting to emerge on the national scene. Nerds come in all stripes - some are going to get into heated discussions on how to make an Old Fashioned, some will draw their Bat’Leth or light sabre and engage in age old debate about which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars, or if Hulk could take Superman in a fight. These debates can get heated, and it does not hurt to have one with a Butterbeer in front of you. Andy Heidel saw the need for a place to discuss such important topics over a drink, and in 2011 opened The Way Station so thirsty travelers had a place to refresh themselves and discuss these critical topics. If anyone is going to write a cocktail book for geeks, it is going to be Andy. After a career that included working with luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, and Adam West, he threw all of his resources into a bar. It started leaning towards steampunk, but its defining feature altered its final destination. THE WAY STATION HAD THE TARDIS! When the thirsty, nerdy masses started to fill his bar every night, he knew he had a Buffy-level hit. The Cocktail Guide to the Galaxy ($22.99, 2017, St. Martin’s Griffin) is Heidel’s third book. The first two books he wrote are collections of his short stories; this is a collection of cocktails made famous at his Brooklyn bar.
The writer in him shows through in the book. So does the geek. This could be one of the most fun cocktails books I have ever read because of that combination. It is a book that does not take itself seriously at all. There are not only dashes of humor for flavor; humor permeates the entire book. For example, there is a cocktail in the Game of Thrones section called a “George R. R. Martini.” The recipe?
George R. R. Martini
- 2 parts gin
- .25 part dry vermouth
Let sit on the shelf for a year. Add ice, stir, then contemplate. Come back to it later. Strain into a fancy glass. Garnish with one olive stabbed through the heart with a lemon wedge.
It is this irreverent, dorky humor that sets this book far apart from the rest of the cocktail books on the shelf. While the cocktails in the book can be serious, the way they are presented is not. There are no equipment lists and few requirements for how to make the cocktails. There is enough simple instruction in each recipe that anyone can make these drinks. The lovely illustrations, the personal anecdotes about his own drinking, and helpful tips about spending an evening out are all just icing on the fairy cake.
Sometimes the effort to be simple does not serve the reader well. For the majority of his recipes, the ingredients he uses are measured in parts. A part is defined as “1.5 oz. (50 mL) and is equivalent to 3 tablespoons.” This is not a bad way to keep the measurements simple, but it can make some of the recipes tricky. One quarter of a part would be .375 oz. (11 mL), or just over 2 tsp. It is a little extra math, but nothing that cannot be overcome. The recipes vary from the basics with the names switched up to match the theme to incredible new cocktails (which may be disappointing if you buy this book looking for the secrets of River Song’s diary). It is far more basic than that.
The purpose of all nerdery is to escape for a little bit into a different world. The Cocktail Guide to the Universe, much like the book it borrows its name from, is a fun jaunt through the world of cocktails. Much like The Way Station itself, it is a welcome oasis of irreverence in a sea of very serious treatises on building a drink. Gather your ingredients and start pouring cocktails that will impress all of your geeky friends. But before you do, you better know where your bar towel is.