I keep a relatively full bar at home—and am always eager to serve cocktails to guests whenever they come over. A few happily accept a gin martini or Manhattan, although most prefer a glass of wine.
Some, however, are intrigued upon seeing me make a mixed drink for myself, and, on second thought, will accept one (their spouses are often surprised).
For those hoping to ring in the holidays for their friends—or themselves—there is no shortage of cocktail books this season. I decided to pick five books and look at them through a single, classic cocktail recipe—my favorite, the Manhattan. The differences may seem subtle, but considering we are only talking a 3 oz. drink, they are actually quite noticeable.
In what is one of the more talked-about books this season—The PDT Cocktail Book (Sterling Epicure)—author Jim Meehan (and mixmaster at PDT, the speakeasy-style bar in New York City) suggests 2 oz. of Wild Turkey Rye (going for traditional rye, rather than the currently more popular bourbon), 1 oz. of Martini sweet vermouth, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, and stirring rather than shaking.
Standing out for its appearance and approach, See Mix Drink: A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Crafting the World’s Most Popular Cocktail by Brian D. Murphy (Little, Brown), instructs how to mix a drink by looking at the glass rather than measuring. Murphy’s drink is a straightforward mix of 2 oz. whiskey, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, 3 dashes bitters. He prefers to shake
In Cocktails, Cocktails and More Cocktails (Imagine), Kester Thompson goes all out and offers three variations of the Manhattan: sweet (with sweet vermouth); dry (dry vermouth); perfect (a combination of sweet and dry).
A highlight for me is Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas (Ten Speed) by Brad Thomas Parsons. I often enjoy single-subject books—the narrowness of the topic allows for deep exploration when done right, which Parsons certainly does. Here, he suggests 2 oz. of rye, with 1 oz. of sweet vermouth—along with 1 oz each of Angostura bitters and orange bitters. He stirs the drink, and tops it off with an amarena or marasca cherry. He’ll even serve it with a twist of lemon.
Finally, in the category of look-but-don’t-touch, one cocktail recipe grabbed my attention. It’s not a Manhattan, but it does have bourbon… and pork. The editors of Imbibe magazine have put forth a book called The American Cocktail (Chronicle), and it is a suggestion for Pig on the Porch, from South Carolina’s American Grocery Restaurant. It’s bourbon, ginger ale, and a garnish of a strip each of bacon and candied bacon.
This New Year’s Eve, I’m celebrating with Parsons’ elixir with the orange bitters and marasca cherries.
Here’s a list of additional spirit books:
Food & Wine Cocktails 2012, from the Editors of Food & Wine, Imagine (May 2012)
Barrels and Drams: The History of Whisk(e)Y in Jiggers and Shots, Edited by William M. Down (Sterling Epicure)
The Seasonal Cocktail Companion: 100 Recipes & Projects for 4 Seasons of Drinking by Maggie Savarino (Sasquatch)
The Ultimate Cocktail Book (Hamlyn)
How to Make Your Own Drinks: Create Your Own Alcoholic and Non-alcholic Drinks from Fruit Cordials to After-Dinner Liquers by Susy Atkins (Mitchell Beazley)
Vintage Cocktails by Amanda Hallay (Skyhorse)