The way I see it, there are three good ways to learn how to make tasty cocktails that will surprise, delight and intoxicate your guests.
Firstly, there is trail and error. Start slinging things you like together, sometimes you’ll hit, sometimes you’ll miss but you will be having fun and that is certainly one of the key prerequisites for making your own drinks. Drinks made along these lines are often the same colour, dictated by whatever juice or mixers you have on hand. They will be very difficult to replicate, due to no one really remembering the ingredients or their proportions, all will agree, however, that the cocktail was, indeed, made. While at the start of your cocktailing journey, trail and error will not move you swiftly forward but it is extremely rewarding once you have picked up some of the basics.
Secondly, you could get some training. I would suggest making friends with a mixoligist as they generally have a great collection of alcohol and a love for the subject, making them excellent teachers. Often bars offer training courses for interested patrons, a small wedge of cash and a few hours on a Saturday afternoon will see your skills and knowledge climbing steadily.
Perhaps the easiest way to start your cock-tailing journey is to buy, beg or borrow books on the subject. I’ve collated a short list of books to offer some sort of a suggestion. They’re all linked through to Amazon, so if you want to buy them it’s all set up.
A sense of place and History.
Understanding is found not only through recipe books, but also through joyful prose. Here’s a couple of books, one the namesake of this blog, to give you a bit more of a history, as well as a few new drinks to make.
David Wondrich has been described to me a chap who has the look of a Civil War General, not having met the man, I couldn’t possibly comment. His book, however is packed to the gunnels with stories describing the birth of many of America’s drinks. It states not only recipes, but tracks evolutions, listing out products lost to the mysteries of time and drinks from as far back as his Civil War look. It’s a great read, well written and will be enjoyed by anyone who is into their drinks.
Kingsley was a great writer, covering topics across the spectrum in his role as a journalist. While there is little doubt that the drink did him in, in the end, his investigation into the history of drink through his columns, as they are pulled together in Everyday Drinking is very impressive. From advice on how to most cost effectively entertain, coupled with recipes and very frank opinion, the book is a great chuckle to be enjoyed most certainly with a drink in hand.
It is easy to forget in these blue hued, cocktail parasoled times about the golden age of drinking. When men were men, sheep were scared and bars were full of cowboys, spies, damsels and divas. Classic cocktail knowledge gives a great base to experiment from, teaching proportion, flavour, balance and depth. Here are some of the best.
One of the oldest readily available cocktail books on earth, Jerry Thomas’s guide is the quintessential classic, breaking drinks into catagories that have been lost to the sands of time. Savour punches, nogs, flips, juleps and slings.
Embury takes his drinking seriously. Beyond instruction his words offer opinion and theory as to why drinking is as it is. His observations of prohibition from one who lived through it are worth the purchase price alone. Like Amis, Embury writes more as a passionate amatuer than an automated professional. His style of offering more than one alternative and focus on experimentation to find what suits the palate best makes this a must have.
Now this is the reprint with Peter Dorelli’s name on it, instead of the original, with Harry Craddock’s. The vintage copy is definitely the best, but it is remarkably difficult to find a copy and those that have found one are not generally willing to part with them. The content between the two is largely the same, although the typesetting in the original is far superior. The recipes are surrounded by somewhat less prose than Embury’s book, but they are sound and informative to be sure.