Slippery tipples : a guide to weird and wonderful spirits & liqueurs.
Joseph Piercy’s “Slippery tipples : a guide to weird and wonderful spirits & liqueur” is another “booze book” that I picked up at Half Price Books. First published in the United Kingdom the book catalogs the odd liqueurs and spirits the author has found in his travels. Each entry is short and sweet, the author gives a short history of the product in question, describes its ingredients, gives his opinion of it, and lists a few drink recipes that use it. Although I doubt I will be able to find and try the more exotic liqueurs mentioned in the book I have already been able to use my new found knowledge of the Chinese drink maotai in a dinner conversation with two gentleman from China. It sparked an interesting conversation about Chinese drinking customs that was entertaining and educational. The book provided valuable fuel for cross cultural conversations.
I do wish that Piercy was better at trying new things. His descriptions of the drinks taste, some powerfully negative, most just negative, and his selection of poorly named and poorly conceived drink recipes are off putting at times and occasionally funny. I hope he was aiming for funny.
I would have to say that this is a book only for someone interested in learning a little about the various exotic alcoholic drinks available around the world and I would advise that person to borrow, rather than buy, a copy.
Philip Greene’s To Have and Have Another
Philip Greene has an interesting biography. He is a descendant of the New Orleans pharmacist that developed Peychaud Bitters. He helped found the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans and works as legal counsel for the Marine Corps. His book, “To have and have another : a Hemingway cocktail companion” is something of a cross between a Mr. Boston’s cocktail guide and a someone’s doctoral dissertation on Hemingway’s writing. Greene’s writing is much better than that last sentence would suggest. There is none of the dry stuffiness of academia or any salesman’s hype on any of the drinks or ingredients.
With each of the 56 drinks that Green found mentioned in Hemingway’s fiction and personal papers Greene giver the recipe, with occasional variations, and offers details about where Hemingway used them in his fiction or drank them in life. Key West and Cuban bars are well represented here. As is the real and the fictional Harry’s Bar which is also the name of the bar my grandfather and I frequented back when I looking forward to becoming a teenager. I am a little annoyed that there is no one left to ask if Hemingway was the inspiration for that establishment’s name.
I confess that I am not a huge fan of Hemingway’s but reading this has caused me to consider giving his fiction another try. I know that the next time I have friends over for a party we will be sampling a few of these drinks and remembering Hemingway.
How to Manage a Successful Bar
If you are as big a bookworm as I am you have been wondering in a used book store and had a title jump out and grab your interest. That is what happened to me with Christopher Egerton-Thomas’ book “How to manage a Successful Bar”. Now I have never wanted to work in a bar, lot less manage one, but I kept coming back to that book. I was shopping with “free” money, I had sold books and magazines to the store and was using that money, so I grabbed it. I am glad I did, it was one of the most fun books I have read this year.
First I did a lot of patting my own back. Dad owned a bar for a few years way back when I was turning into a teenager and I spent many hours in the basement sorting beer bottles and stocking the bar before opening. I remembered a few things. I learned a few hints and shortcuts. For instance if you are going to be making Pina Coladas mix your cream of coconut with pineapple juice ahead of time, it really does save time and simplify making the drink.* All of his cocktail related information seemed to make sense but I felt he was a little rough on beer, although my memories of sorting dead soldiers in the basement of Murphy’s Pub are not all good and cleaning the pipes for the draft beer was not part of my responsibilities beer seemed simple to sell. I can’t judge his comments on wine. The only wine I bought for myself was a bottle of port for mulling.
The real fun of the book had to do with its age. Published in 1994 it is now old enough to drink and I found it fascinating how things have changed in such a short time.** Listed as necessary items for a bar are phone books and ashtrays. One ashtray for every two bar stools. Today it is illegal to smoke in a bar. Phone books? I would guess it has been a decade since I saw one. I have to say the same about TV Guide. When I read credit card slips I had to stop and think for a second. I started a retail business in 1993 and the bank did not want to allow me to use the old fashioned paper slips for credit card sales. They were very instant that I get a phone line and use an electronic card machine even though my “store” was a truck and I drove from customer to customer. How were bars getting by with the old paper slips? The only thing that made sense to me is that possibly the book sat around a few years before being published.
After reading his advice on dealing with personal problems, coworkers and bosses I had to accept that there was good reasons someone would hesitate to publish this as a legitimate “how to”. Christopher Egerton-Thomas is no Dale Carnegie, you won’t learn how to make friends or influence people here.
Still, I think it was worth reading. Not for the business advice but for the advice on bartending, sure, why not. While writing this I started reading a book about alcohol and Ernest Hemingway, in life and in his fiction. I have to say that Egerton-Thomas helped me understand how Hemingway lived as long as he did while drinking like he did. His bartenders had to be watching over him and, after a point, watering his drinks down.
* Now I know not to premix an entire bottle for a gathering of six responsible adults. My wife and I will be drinking Pina Coladas for the rest of the week.
** Ok, I am old or at least getting there but to me 1994 seems like yesterday.
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.
The Drunken Botanist
The first thing I want to say is that I enjoyed Amy Stewart’s “The Drunken Botanist”. The book is well researched, well crafted in a reader friendly voice that manages to explain science and history while still being entertaining. Stewart is through, if something contributed to the contents of a bottle on the liquor shelf she discusses it and she does not let the “Botanist” is the title restrict her to plant life. I am the annoying type of reader that needs to share particularly interesting bits of information as I read them, my wife is lucky that she was not with me as I read this. Most pages would have started me going, repeating some factoid that I thought was fascinating. The thing is I understand that most people do not share my interests.
Sure, most people, not all, like to drink but most don’t garden and, as far as I can tell, they don’t care that they can’t tell one plant from another. People are interested in history but most are interested in one era or subject. Stewart tells, indirectly, the history of world trade, the movement and development of agriculturally important plants. and the development of the technology for using them and she wraps it all up in the story of booze. Then again people do like to drink and eat, and every plant discussed in Stewart’s book can be or has been consumed in one way or another. The descriptions of the plants, their histories and uses might seem like they go on forever, with much repetition, if you sit down to read the book in one sitting. I grab a little time here and there to read which mostly prevented me from experiencing information overload but at least once I felt is coming on.
Every book on alcohol contains drink recipes and “The Drunken Botanist” is no exception but there are not as many as I would have guessed. Stewart carefully picked the recipes to feature the plant under discussion which means that some have very specific ingredients. Home bartenders like me will need to think twice about before adding a bottle to their bar that might only be used once. However Stewart’s drinks looked interesting enough that I have already decided to try a few of them. A bottle of Karlsson’s Vodka, which will get used even if I don’t like it on rocks with cracked pepper, some ingredients from the baking section of a good grocery, a little time making a syrup is not much of a cost to pay if the drinks are interesting. After all I have been trying new things since the day I was born.