Book Review: The Ultimate Bar Book

WHEN IT COMES TO getting a book with an exhaustive list of cocktail recipes for you to try out at home, you've got a lot of options, and they're all more or less the same. But if you want to get a book which will give you all that, but also enrich your knowledge of the art of cocktails and give it to you with a wink and a nod, you absolutely need to get Mittie Hellmich's Ultimate Bar Book.

The first thing that distinguishes it from most other bar books is that the cocktail recipes are divided into categories based on the dominant alcohol in the drink, not alphabetically. This makes it phenomenally easy, once you've familiarized yourself with the basic liquors, to find a drink to suit your mood. Feeling whiskey? Just flip towards the back and find something delectable to mix up. Within each section, there are also subsections devoted to particularly significant drinks and their variations. So you get a page discussing the history of the gimlet under gin, a spread on the Bloody Mary under vodka, and a whopping three pages each devoted to the Manhattan and the mint julep under whiskey.

That's the technical part of the book, but there's so much more. The front section includes a glossary of bar equipment (with illustrations of the implements), a glassware guide, a guide to types of drinks (with the histories of standards like the rickey, the fizz, the flip, and exactly makes a drink a highball), and an invaluable section on the science/art of making a drink. Did you know that most cocktails consist of three parts? Hopefully you do if you've been reading The Bottle Gang, but thinking of a cocktail as consisting of the base (the bedrock liquor, greatest by volume), the body (the modifier, a sort of comment on the main alcohol, like vermouth), and the perfume (the last touch that adds complexity to the drink, whether through sweetness, bitterness, or perhaps a fruity overtone) makes it much easier to come up with good cocktails on your own.

Then there's Hellmich's writing, which is dry as a dry martini, especially in the sections that detail the stories of each type of alcohol. "Although originally used as a health tonic," Hellmich writes, "gin has no official medicinal value today; nonetheless, Martini drinkers claim a variety of positive effects."

And regarding vodka: "Even the regular premium vodkas tend to have a somewhat harsh finish, so unless you wish to evoke a Dostoevskyian moment, they are really suitable only as mixers."

There are lots of websites that can give you recipes for making cocktails, but Hellmich's Ultimate Bar Book treats the subject with respect and just a bit of tongue in cheek—a perfect companion for a night of tippling.(McPHERSON)

1 comment:

keith waldbauer said...

darn it, you beat me to a review on this book. it is indeed very well put together, and strikes a good balance between the classics and newer drinks. one of the better new cocktail collections out there and deserving of a space on every cocktail geeks shelf. i just haven't gotten around to backtesting the recipes. great review.