Review: The Curious Bartender

book cover The Curious Bartender

The Curious Bartender

I was leary of this book, The curious bartender : the artistry and alchemy of creating the perfect cocktail, when I first picked it up. The cover is elaborate, it is printed on heavy, marbled paper, I would almost call it cardstock. Every page has a full color illustration, very often a full page photograph. Overproduced was what I thought and I expected it to be more flash than bang, pretty but shallow. Then I started reading the introduction and the author, Tristan Stephenson, was talking about molecular gastronomy, rotary evaporators, “sous vide”, and other terms that were Greek to me. My expectations plummeted. When I crack open a bottle of spirits I want to find grain or fruit, yeast, heat, oak essence, and centuries of experience. When I mix a cocktail I want simplicity and tradition, fresh fruit juice, spirits, maybe a liqueur or a flavored syrup. I don’t want to have anything to do with a chemistry set. If not for the pictures of delicious looking drinks I might have not bothered to read the book but it was a gift and those pictures did look good. Then he explained that an emulsion is nothing more exotic than meringue on a pie or the foam on top of a Ramos Gin Fizz. So I carried on.
The first section covers techniques needed to make traditional and new age drinks. Stephenson writes well and does a good job explaining the techniques. The only problem is that I have no interest in using smoke or dry ice, or dehydrating something to make my guests a drink. Still the parts I was interested in, even something as simple as using ice, the difference between shaking and stirring a drink is explained so clearly that I was surprised at how much I did not know.
The second section recipes, it is divided according to type of spirit, gin, vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum, and tequila. He focuses on popular drinks that have been around the block a few times. I appreciated this, I see a book or app full of drink recipes and I have know idea which are popular and which are filler. Stephenson’s years experience behind a bar shows in his selection of drinks. He lists two recipes for each drink, the traditional way and his new age, molecular, distilled, aged, frozen alchemy. How many frozen alcoholic lollipops or daiquiri sherberts do we really need? I was skeptical and I suspect that my lip was curling up in disgust at a few of the renovated drinks.
Then we got to the rum drinks and I started to soften. He pointed out, as I have suspected, that the first Cuba Libras had a bit of cocaine in them courtesy of the coke in Coca-Cola. He gives a great “traditional” recipe then uses his wizardry to recreate the original drink. He recreates the original Coke, even concocting a basil-clove infusion to mimic the mouth numbing effects of the cocaine Coke. Then he moves on the the Flip, a century old hot rum drink that originally was made by plunging a red hot poker into the drink to heat it. He explains the evolution away from the hot poker to using an egg for the texture but then he writes, “but there’s no substitution for a hot poker in life” and proceeds to explain how and why to make it the old way.
By the time I got to the appendices, a very useful glossary, index and list of suppliers for the standard and exocit tools and ingredeants in the book, my opinion had softened. I still think the book paid too much attention to production but there is good solid information for even an unambitious home bartender like me. The modern techniques are not my style but, I have to confess that I would not turn down a chance to try some of them.

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Filed under Book review, Cocktails, Drink, Entertainment, Food

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