Classic Cocktail Book?
I am looking to buy a classic cocktail recipe book for my guy for Christmas. He and I are more wine aficionados, but we have slowly been building our bar to the point where we have a decent selection, but not a huge repertoire. We love classic cocktails, are not afraid of egg whites or strong drinks, and are looking for a book that will help inspire us to go beyond a Ramos Gin Fizz as the most adventurous drink that we make.
Any suggestions? It doesn't necessarily have to be exclusively "classic" cocktails, but we aren't really fussy people, and classic cocktails seem to generally suit his taste best.
There's quite a few possibilities here. First, Dale DeGroff's book The Craft of the Cocktail is my go-to volume. Plenty of classic cocktails, lots of very well-crafted modern creations, all wrapped with Dale's charisma. His other book The Essential Cocktail is a nice one, maybe a little more approachable than the more straightforward Craft. If you want to get in a little deeper right off the bat, the new PDT Cocktail Book by PDT's owner Jim Meehan has all but vaulted its way to instant classic. There's plenty of vintage cocktails in there, along with some very creative new drinks that can still be made at home with a little extra effort. Or you can go off the deep end for adventurous classic cocktails, and pick up Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail. This book is jammed full of cocktail history and a great number of very delicious cocktails that haven't seen the light of day in ages. Note there's two versions of the last one; you want the one that's hardcover with a spiral binding.
I agree with JK on Ted Haigh's book, Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits. It is a fantastic second book for the new cocktail enthusiast. Great history and great drinks that aren't common.
My review of this book starts with "Buy this book." The lay-flat binding should be emulated by others, although I usually use a netbook or iPhone web browser when I mix.
I might recommend Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology for a first book. It is not as beautifully produced as others and I don't care for the title, but Gary has a wonder section in the middle that relates cocktails to each other in families that make it easy to understand them. It forms the basis for anyone wanting to make up their own creations. It also has a solid section on tools and techniques, and a good selection of cocktails with solid, trustworthy recipes.
You can't go wrong with Dale's books either, and they are beautiful.
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Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits is a great book. However, unless you have a broad selection of obscure liquors you probably will not be able to make most of the recipes at the spur of the moment. One would probably need to run to the liquor store to see if they even carry some of the more obscure liquors, which can be very frustrating and discouraging for someone just starting. I don't recommend it as a starter book for someone who wants actually try to make the drinks as opposed to someone who will mainly use it as a coffee table book. After you have had a chance to get a little depth in the liquor cabinet to be able to have most (if not all) of the ingredients on hand and/or the familiarity with the different flavours and their interactions in order to alter recipes on the fly and substitute for things you don't have/will never get, exploring the recipes as they are written and then experimenting to make your own variations of the recipes makes for a very enjoyable afternoon. A shamelessly stolen recommendation from Ward/DeRossi via the Death & Co. website - if you can find it, volume 2 of "A Gentleman's Companion" is a good book to get.
Good point on Vintage Spirits. It's a great book, but many if not most recipes call for at least one relatively obscure component. That said, most of the obscure liquors/liqueurs called for are increasingly easy to find these days, and picking up one unusual bottle will open up numerous possibilities. I wouldn't recommend it for a total beginner, but it might do very well for someone who has a reasonably well-stocked bar but hasn't picked up, say, that interesting bottle of creme de violette because they have no ideas for what to do with it.
The Gentleman's Companion book 2 (available in reprint as Jigger, Beaker, and Glass, I think?) is a great read, but it suffers from the same obscure-ingredient issue as Vintage Cocktails, and I wouldn't recommend it as a practical guide for anyone who isn't looking to do a lot of tweaking. The recipes I've tried generally haven't come out well - most of them are very sweet, and none of them are very well-balanced.
In addition to those noted here, the Savoy Cocktail Book is a nice addition to any collection.
Since Wondrich's Esquire Drinks is out of print (obtainable via Ebay, Amazon used, or Half.com), most of those drinks and stories appear on the Esquire's website (google Wondrich Esquire).
One of my favorite and approachable classics is Cafe Royal Cocktail Book from the 1930s. Many of those drinks (along with ones from Stan Jones' book from the 1970s) make up Cocktaildb.com.
I like a number of these books for their classic status that is well-deserved, however, I found The Essential Bartender's Guide by Robert Hess to be best all-round starter book that lies flat, is pretty comprehensive, has easy to read layouts, and interesting but not obscure ingredients - and the proportions in the recipes are generally spot on relative to balance for my taste.
I love the PDT book to read but not to make drinks from on a daily basis. Joy of Mixology is a great reference but too dense for daily use to me.
I also think Boozehound by Jason Wilson is a great read with solid recipes interspersed but not a general guide.
Finally, if Tiki drinks are interesting to you, you can't live without Beachbum Berry Remixed, an excellent compilation of a couple of prior books
I recently pulled out a volume I had not perused in quite a while -- a facsimile volume of George Saintsbury's "Notes on a Cellar Book" (1927). It has some interesting comments on various spirits (along with wine, beer, and cider) such as absinthe, genever, Benedictine, Chartreuse, and so forth. I pulled it out because I was looking for some comments about Curacao (having recently come into a bottle of the Ferrand Dry Curacao). Is anyone else familiar with it?