Making cocktails is an expensive hobby. To make even the most simple cocktails you need several bottles of alcohol, some basic bar equipment (like a shaker and strainer) and glassware to serve it in. If things get out of hand and you become a bit obsessed like I am, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on hard-to-find ingredients that let you make obscure cocktails, and start to lust for ever more expensive items of equipment to help you make your drinks. It’s all good fun, but certainly not for your poor, rapidly emptying wallet.
One of the most expensive items of drinking paraphernalia is the classic cocktail book. These days we have access to a wealth of modern recipe guides, but nothing quite beats finding an old drink from an ancient tome and finding that it actually tastes pretty tasty. Unfortunately, original copies of books like the Harry Johnson’s Bartenders Manual, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and Jerry Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide go for hundreds of dollars on eBay these days, putting them out of reach for all but he most dedicated, and well-heeled.
Until recently that is. A few months ago Stephan Berg, collector of many ancient cocktail volumes published a reproduction of Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual and now Greg Boehm, another avid collector of drinking books, has launched a whole series of classics that are now available at a fraction of their usual eBay prices.
The initial release which has just become available includes The Modern Bartenders’ Guide, Barflies and Cocktails, Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks, The Mixicologist and Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, with two of the most important books in the world of cocktails, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and Jerry Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide to follow later this year along with a brand new book from Robert Hess.
Now of course these are reproductions so don’t get the same special feeling you do holding an original copy, but what you do get is access to the contents, from the recipes for many bitters, syrups and cordials in The Modern Bartenders’ Guide to diagrams of bar equipment like the crazy hand-cranked “Imperial Shaker” in Recipes of American and other Iced Drinks, along with enough recipes and bartending advice to last you several lifetimes (short ones at that if you try to get through the books too fast!)
These new reproductions have been made to be as similar to the originals as possible, right down to the red coloured spine of The Mixicologist and the fantastic colour drawing gracing the cover of Barflies and Cocktails. The only real change is the new introductions written by the likes of David Wondrich, Ted Haigh and Dale DeGroff, which help put the books in to context and highlight the best features of each of them. While these certainly shouldn’t be the first books you add to your library, these will be of great interest to anyone with an interest in mixed drinks.
Of course I couldn’t finish the post without trying at least one cocktail from the books, so tonight I had a flick through and found the following cocktail in Barflies and Cocktails. The drink apparently originates from Hoffman House in New York. It caught my eye partly because of the drawing by Wynn Holcomb that precedes the recipe and partly because it makes use of eggs, an ingredient I’ve become slightly obsessed with since the session on using eggs in cocktails at TotC.
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz rye
- ¾ shot / 22.5 ml / ¾ oz dry vermouth
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz lemon juice
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz sugar syrup
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- 1 egg white
- Shake all ingredients hard with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
My obsession has mainly centred around trying to reproduce the rich frothy head of foam the Ramos Gin Fizz that was served at that session had. I’ve used eggs in cocktails plenty of times before, but after seeing the results other people were getting both at Tales and in drinks like the Apple Blow Fizz I had at Pegu Club I knew I needed to try harder. So far I’ve found dry shaking just the egg with the spring from a hawthorn strainer before shaking everything else normally produces the best result. It’s not quite as good as what I want to achieve, but it’s getting there.
The Mountain Cocktail is an enjoyable if not particularly remarkable drink. The mixture of rye, vermouth and lemon creates an enjoyable flavour profile and the egg provides that lovely mouthfeel and texture to the drink. Without the egg I’m not sure if the ingredients would quite work, but as it stands it just about comes together. The measures used here are rough interpretations of the ratios given in the original recipe, so it may be worth playing around a bit – I’ve not had a chance but I’m sure with slight tweaking the drink could be even better.
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