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One fun little book I picked up was An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails by Orr Shtuhl, which is no ordinary bartender's cheat sheet. First, the book is amply and charmingly illustrated by Elizabeth Graeber. You can get a taste of her style by looking at the cover at the left and the scan I include below. I love her animal drawings, and she seems to have captured Shtuhl's engaging sense of humor.
As the subtitle, 50 Classic Cocktail Recipes, Tips, and Tales, implies, the book includes stories, history, and other information for each of the drinks. Although the cocktails are fairly no-nonsense classics (martini, bloody Mary, Tom Collins, for example), the recipes and presentation are anything but. All it takes is a look at the two-page chapter on the Long Island iced tea to make my point (click image to enlarge):
But despite the humor, Shtuhl provides quite a lot of information in this slip of a book. For example, on page 1 we learn that the structure of a classic cocktail is quite simple: strong + sweet + bitter = great cocktail. The strong is the alcohol; the sweet is sugar, a liqueur, or juice; and the bitter is, well, bitters or citrus. We also learn the origins of the cocktails, their names, and what famous people sipped them. We can even pick up some useful tips for buying bar equipment. But even here, Shtuhl is quick to point out that a good drink can be made without fancy gadgets. And, in fact, his zero bar equipment recipe is hilarious--and a bit reassuring to those of us who are minimalists.
I also enjoyed the sections on how to like different types of spirits (whiskey, tequila, gin, and so on). Included here are beginner, advanced, and expert cocktails (in taste, not execution) as well as general information about the liquor and how to use it in a drink. I thought the stories about the people behind the drinks--from the historic (George Washington) to the fictional (James Bond)--gave me a new appreciation for the liquid in my glass.
If you're looking for an easy introduction to traditional cocktails or a thoughtful Father's Day gift for your favorite home bartender, I highly recommend Orr Shtuhl's An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails.
Penguin USA / Gotham Books, 2013
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright 2013 cbl for www.BethFishReads.com