Must reading for your craft cocktail enjoyment
By Tony Cross
The craft cocktail movement has been in full effect for well over a decade now, and Moscow Mules are a thing. I had no clue about such cocktails until three years ago. When I started to delve into the world of balancing drinks, there was already so much information out there to give me a head start: I would watch videos on YouTube, check out menus from bars and restaurants across the globe, and, of course, study books from respected and famous bartenders. There are so many great reads, but I’ve picked three that have inspired me when I’ve prepared menus and drinks for events, and friends.
Speakeasy, by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric
Written by the guys that started up Employees Only, one of the first craft cocktail joints that started the movement at the beginning of the millennium, Speakeasy was the first book I read when I became serious about making drinks. I first discovered Employees Only in a small New York Times article about a bar that sold their homemade grenadine and other syrups to guests and surrounding bars. Needless to say, that article piqued my interest and got the ball rolling on my curiosity for cocktails and the fancy establishments that perfected them. Ice is discussed in one of the first chapters; this may seem pretentious at first, but ice is a crucial ingredient to any good cocktail. Classics are covered, as well as many signature drinks that found their way onto the EO menu over the years.
2 oz Baker’s 7 Year Old Bourbon
1 oz lemon juice
½ 1/2 oz simple syrup
½ 1/2 oz grenadine
¼ 1/4 oz absinthe bitters (or substitute Pernod)
1 lemon wheel
Combine bourbon, lemon juice, syrup, grenadine and bitters into a mixing glass. Add ice and shake like hell for 10 seconds. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon wheel.
Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari,
by Mark Bitterman
This one isn’t even a year old yet, but has been a staple at my home. Mark Bitterman has two shops (New York City, and Portland, Oregon) called The Meadow, which sells salts, chocolates and bitters. I was lucky enough to step into The Meadow a few years ago, and I was quickly overwhelmed by the large selection of tonics and bitters. Having this book on hand would’ve been a godsend. It’s only fitting that Bitterman’s passion is also part of his last name; his attention to detail goes above and beyond when describing amari and bitters. When breaking down the various brands of bitters, Bitterman uses a rating system from 1 (least) to 5 (most) on aromatics, bitterness and sweetness levels. There are also tasting notes to describe each product, along with the types of drinks that each one pairs with well. The same rating system and descriptions are used in his “Amari” section. In addition to describing practically every bitters on the planet, there are also recipes for making your own bitters (with a sitting time of less than a week!), cooking with bitters, and, of course, making cocktails with bitters. Bitterman gives plenty of examples of how switching up your bitters arsenal puts a great twist on the classics.
This recipe comes from Kirk Estopinal, bartender at Cure in New Orleans, and his now nowhere to be found Rogue Cocktails book (I borrowed it from a friend last year). Bitterman published this in his Field Guide, and it’s absolutely delicious.
3/4 oz lemon juice
1 egg white*
1 1/2 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz simple syrup (1:1)
Dry-shake the lemon juice and the egg white. (Put both ingredients into a shaker, and shake without ice. We do this to break up the protein bonds in the egg white; the result is a frothy, velvety texture in your cocktail.) Add the bitters, syrup, and ice and shake hard for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.
*Largely misunderstood, using egg whites in cocktails has been common practice since cocktails were created way back when. Many people are concerned about the risk of salmonella, but as long as you’re using organic/cage-free eggs (with the combination of high-proof alcohol), you’ll be good to go.
Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails, by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, Alex Day
The hype behind this book before it came out was all over the internet. I ordered it as soon as it became available, and was blown away on my first read. This is definitely, IMO, the best cocktail book out there. Death & Company opened in 2006 in New York City, making its mark in the craft cocktail movement. They’ve won awards at the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention in NOLA (Best Cocktail Menu, and Best American Bar), and with 500 cocktails to look over, it’s easy to see what a creative force this bar has been with bartenders from past and present. Death & Co. has a section on every spirit, including brand recommendations; sections on juicing, ice and tools; how to taste-evaluate cocktails, and even pages here and there devoted to their regulars telling fond stories about their first or favorite times at the bar with their favorite cocktail and its recipe on the side page. Too much to say about this work of art.
“Shattered Glasser” Phil Ward, 2008
“I love it when one of our regulars asks us to create a cocktail on the spot based on crazy criteria — and it’s even better when we can pull off a decent drink on the first try. One night Avery Glasser, the man behind Bittermens bitters (no relation to Mark Bitterman) and one of the bar’s original regulars, asked me to make him a drink that contained all of his favorite ingredients. The problem was that he likes a lot of weird shit. But, I gave it a shot, splitting both the base spirit and its modifiers, and it resulted in a surprisingly balanced drink.” — PW
1 oz El Tesoro Reposado Tequila
½1/2 oz Los Amantes Mezcal Joven
3/4 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
1/2 oz Van Oosten Batavia Arrack
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1/4 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Stir all ingredients over ice, then strain into a coupe. No garnish. OH
Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern pines. He can also recommend a vitamin supplement for the morning after at Nature’s Own.