When I look around our house, I’m struck by what a booze-cluttered lair it is. There are bottles in our dining room, bottles on my office bookshelves and in the closet. There are bottles in our exercise room, so when I get on the elliptical machine, I can hear them clinking menacingly, a sound that, in movies, usually signifies an earthquake. Should a spark ever hit my office bookshelf, the fireball will be seen from space.
I mention this not to brag about my embarrassing hoarding problem, but to explain the oddness of an experience I’ve had: I start paging through a new cocktail book looking for a new drink to make and realize that there is scarcely one I can make with ingredients I have on hand. Yup: With all that booze and a pile of citrus fruit in the place, I’d still have to make several trips to the store to make most of the drinks.
Several such books have come out of great bars. My sense is that they may serve best as art objects, coffee table books treating cocktails like Matisse paintings, existing mostly to advertise the bar that created them. Take the Dead Rabbit’s book. It’s a gorgeous testament to the terrific bar in New York; when I thumbed through it, I immediately longed to go back there. But most of the recipes make even me — with my booze collection and happiness to spend an hour making drinks — feel inadequate. One punch, for example, requires a homemade camomile tincture, an infused liquor and a syrup made with maidenhair ferns. I’d have to visit a liquor store, a grocery store and a plant nursery to make it; halfway through, I’d give up and stop for a beer.
And for someone who doesn’t have a substantial booze collection, the ingredients often seem cost-prohibitive. For the cost of assembling ingredients in other bar books’ drink recipes, I could grab a train from Washington to New York, go to one of the bars, order the cocktail and have enough left for pizza — though, admittedly, I would have to hitchhike home.
The Dead Rabbit is one of my favorite bars, and if there’s ever a great Alexandrian library of exquisite cocktail books established, its book should be there for booze-wizards in Chartreuse-spattered robes to consult. And some day, I’ll make that punch, perhaps to toast visiting interstellar explorers seeking to understand human culture, the heights of earthly cocktailing and the value of potted ferns. But some of the recipes from the bars that have defined the craft cocktail movement have limited value to the time-and-budget-pressed drinking public, who will end up using their books as extremely beautiful, extremely heavy coasters.
“The problem is that drinks have never been more complicated in bars and never been further from what you want to make at home,” says Maggie Hoffman, author of “The One-Bottle Cocktail.” What the customer doesn’t always consider about the baroque drinks at cocktail bars is the economies of scale at work there: Bartenders are “actually batching these complicated formulas, so they can make a waffle liqueur that has Madeira and this and that and whatever . . . and they’re going to make that drink a hundred times,” Hoffman points out. “But at home, you’re not making it a hundred times.”
Hoffman’s new book is one of several of recent years designed for people who either don’t have hundreds to spend on an elaborate booze collection or lack leisure hours to while away making drinks. The three books here take different approaches to making cocktails easier; pick the ones that work best for you.
“The One-Bottle Cocktail,” by Maggie Hoffman
The approach: Hoffman gathered recipes from bartenders around the country for modern, delicious drinks made with a single base spirit and some ingredients from the grocery store. “What if you don’t have vermouth, but you instead make hibiscus tea and add fresh rosemary? . . . You get that tart flavor and a little of that bitterness and the herbs,” she says. “You can get to the kinds of flavors we’ve come to expect without spending $100 at the liquor store.” Tricks you can do with marmalade, smoked salt, a range of honeys, tea, even radicchio — all contribute to drinks here, dressing up a single, easy-to-find spirit.
Try the recipe: Slippery When Wet
“3-Ingredient Cocktails,” by Robert Simonson
The approach: Classics and modern drinks that go the distance without making you buy out the booze store. “One day, while absently thinking about cocktails . . . it struck me that almost all of the classic cocktails had only three ingredients,” Simonson emailed me. “Martini, Manhattan, Daiquiri, Negroni, Margarita, Tom Collins. . . . I thought, perhaps, in the era of complex cocktails we now live in, it might be worthwhile to remind both drinkers and bartenders of this important fact. I also thought such a book might serve as a useful alternative to some of the more fussy cocktail books that have been published in the last few years.”
Try the recipe: Gold Rush
“Shake. Stir. Sip” by Kara Newman
The approach: Every drink has the same amount of each of its ingredients. Such drinks are rare and respected in the cocktail world, like little magic tricks. “I look at drinks like the Last Word and the Paper Plane, and I can’t believe they’re really all in equal measures, and it yields this lovely thing I want to drink over and over again,” says Newman. “Even though they’re simple to make, there’s a lot of effort behind them. I’m looking at the Sunflower, by Sam Ross over at Attaboy. It’s a Corpse Reviver variation: gin, lemon, St. Germain and orange liqueur. There’s no way he didn’t workshop every last quarter ounce. It works because he made it work.”
Try the recipe: Toffee Negroni
A drink like the Gold Rush — with its three-part harmony of honey, lemon and bourbon — might seem absurdly basic amid a cocktail scene that seems to center on Instagrammable drinks chilled with dry ice, topped with fancy foams and served in unicorn-shaped mugs. But dialing in a drink so it includes the perfect ratio of spirit, sweetener and juice is an art, one that — though you may not notice the hand of the artist — often requires more skill than a drink that distracts with bells and whistles. “Cocktail writers and veteran bartenders complain all the time about mixologists who run before they can walk, who attempt ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ before they’ve mastered their ABCs,” Simonson says. “But nobody seems to listen.”
But at home, perhaps, it’s easier to hear such pleas. After all, Newman notes that there’s a difference between what most people want from drinks at bars and what they want to make. “When I go to a restaurant, I expect to order the fancy coq au vin,” says Newman. “But when I go home, I expect to make a roast chicken. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s the cocktail equivalent of a foolproof roast chicken that’s delicious and works every time. I think maybe it’s the Negroni?”
Allan is a Hyattsville, Md., writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter: @Carrie_the_Red.
Adapted by Shannon Tebay Sidle, from Maggie Hoffman’s “The One-Bottle Cocktail” (Ten Speed Press, 2018).
Crushed ice, plus ice cubes
1 large or 2 small strawberries, plus a strawberry slice for garnish
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce honey
2 ounces gin
1 heaping teaspoon plain Greek yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice.
Use a muddler to mash together the strawberries, lemon juice and honey in a cocktail shaker. Add the gin and yogurt, then fill the shaker with ice cubes. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then double-strain into the glass.
Sprinkle the black pepper on top and garnish with the strawberry slice.
MAKE AHEAD: The honey syrup can be refrigerated for a week.
Adapted by T.J. Siegal, from Robert Simonson’s “3-Ingredient Cocktails” (Ten Speed Press, 2017).
2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce rich honey syrup (see NOTE)
Put the ice in a rocks glass.
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the bourbon, lemon juice and honey syrup and shake vigorously for 15 seconds (to chill). Then strain into the rocks glass.
NOTE: To make the rich honey syrup, combine 1 cup honey with ⅓ cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the honey has dissolved. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate the syrup for up to 1 week.
Adapted by Lynnette Marrero, from Kara Newman’s “Shake. Stir. Sip.” (Chronicle, 2016).
Large ice cube, plus more ice for mixing
1 ounce aged rum
1 ounce Amontillado sherry
1 ounce Aperol
Twist of grapefruit peel, for garnish
Put a large ice cube to a rocks glass.
Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add the rum, sherry and Aperol, then strain into the rocks glass and garnish with the grapefruit twist.
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