Exciting times

June 30th, 2008

The past few years have been pretty exciting times for anyone interested in the world of mixed drinks. Rare ingredients like Crème de Violette and Old Tom gin are becoming easily available (or at least more easily available), and rumour has it that others like Crème Yvette are on the horizon. In bars too, well-made cocktails are becoming available in ever increasing numbers of bars as bartenders once again take pride in their drinks and serve something better than badly made Cosmopolitans and Apple Martinis.

The humble cocktail recipe book has also received a lot of attention recently, with David Wondrich’s Imbibe! bringing Jerry Thomas’ classic cocktail bible to new audiences and giving it historical context. Other classic tomes have also been popping up on internet sites thanks to lapsed copyrights, bringing volumes that previously would have been very difficult and expensive to get hold to anyone with an internet connection.

Publishers Cocktail Kingdom have announced just this month, after much rumour, that they are republishing a raft of classic cocktail manuals including the sought-after “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” by David Embury which costs hundreds of dollars to purchase currently. Meanwhile on this side of the pond Stephan Berg of The Bitter Truth has just released a reprint of another book that costs hundreds of dollars in original form, the 1900 edition of Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual.

Corkscrew cocktail

Harry Johnson was a professional bartender for most of his life and along with Jerry Thomas was one of the first to write about his trade. Harry’s rather opinionated thoughts on the bartending profession and how to run a bar, which takes up the first third of the book, make for a fascinating insight in to the world of nineteenth century bars. He wasn’t afraid of boasting, describing one of his bars as “what was generally recognized to be the largest and finest establishment of the kind in this country”, but the advice is clearly spoken from the heart about a profession he really believes in.

The remainder of the book lists cocktail recipes in no real order, with an index of drinks by name thankfully appearing near the start should you want to quickly find a drink. Some of the recipes Harry chooses to list, like the “Brandy Straight”, don’t really require much more information than that in the title of the drink, but there are also plenty of very interesting sounding cocktails as well as classics like the Manhattan and Martini.

The quality of the reprint is excellent with every page of the original book reproduced without alteration, including the original cover and spine which lists a price of $1.00 for the book. The only additions are a few pages at the back advertising The Bitter Truth, Drinkology and Le Lion in Hamburg, all of which are well designed to match the style of the adverts from 1900. Between the classic recipes and Harry Johnson’s advice, The Bartenders’ Manual is a great cocktail book and it’s wonderful that people can now own it without shelling out vast sums of money for it.

I’ll leave you with a recipe from the book that caught my eye thanks to its unusual name. The recipe below is what I adapted from Harry’s calls dashes of this and glasses of that and the result is a pretty interesting and ultimately fairly tasty drink, though I’m sure there is room for improvement in the ratios…

Saratoga Brace Up

View in: oz | ml | shots

Harry Johnson’s Bartenders Manual is available to purchase now at Drinkology. The site is currently only available in German, but an English version is forthcoming and rates for international shipping can be found by contacting them.

Note: In the interests of full disclosure Stephan Berg, who produced this reprint and owns the Drinkology website, is a personal acquaintance and this book was supplied to me by Drinkology free of charge.

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2 responses to “Exciting times”

  1. Reggie Primrose Reggie Primrose says:

    Hello fellow imbibers!

    If your considering adding video demonstrations of making drinks or any other bartending related video. Consider Vimeo over YouTube as the host of your video. Vimeo offers a superior rendering of your video and accepts hd video. Your video will have a crisper image. As good as tv in hd mode. There are several bartending videos on vimeo and I have created a group to organize the videos and develop a community.


  2. Courvoisier Introduces Two New Cognacs in Dallas | SideDish says:

    [...] the best mixologists in the business: Jason Kosmas and Eddie Campbell. They made Sazerac, Saratoga (Harry Johnson’s recipe!), Mai Tai and Mata Hari drinks for everyone and even enlisted the gullible to come up [...]

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