By Camper English
Whether it’s a lack of money or an excess of agoraphobia, you’ve decided to start making more cocktails at home. But there are so very many recipe books on the market. Which do you choose, and do you really need them at all, now that everything is online?
The problem with online drink databases is that they have thousands of recipes, and most of them are just plain awful. They recipes come from many different sources, so you end up with 17 bad recipes for the Martini when you’re only looking for one good one. Also, to make the drinks you end up running back and forth between the computer where the recipes is and the kitchen where the ingredients are.
When it comes to collections of recipes, I say less is more. A book with 10,000 drink recipes in it will likely have 9500 that you’d never try. Even the classic, 1500-drink Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide was pretty lousy with bad cocktails until this year’s makeover that eliminated a lot of the calls for pre-mixes like Collins mix and sour mix. That book is a good bartender’s quick reference, but if you want and the Master’s level study on bartending pick up Gary Regan’s very detailed The Joy of Mixology.
I open Regan’s book when I have a nerdy drink question, but not when I’m whipping up something tasty for happy hour. For that, most often I turn to Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail. It has all the classic recipes you’ll need. But if I’m feeling in the mood for experimentation with new drinks, I’ll pick up Robert Hess’s The Essential Bartender’s Guide (it’s not, but the recipes are good) or the inspiring The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. That book will make you realize the kitchen and the bar are not so different- you’re just cooking with liquids instead of solids.
If you love a particular spirit, you can just skip the rest of the recipes and go for a specialty book. W. Park Kerr’s Viva Vodka is nice, as is Joanne Weir’s Tequila, Kim Haasarud’s 101 Champagne Cocktails, and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Sippin’ Safari for rum.
You can also find many of Beachbum’s recipes on an iPhone application, called Tiki+. It was developed by the same people behind great historical cocktail recipe app called Cocktails+. Gary Regan, cited above, released the app Flip N Drink with classic and modern recipes combined.
The great thing about these drink applications is most of them offer only as many recipes as you’ll find in a book, rather than the tens of thousands you’ll find online. This is certainly useful when you’re out at a bar and forget a recipe, but I still find myself reaching for the hard copy instead of my phone at home. Not only do I like all the extra information about glassware and mixing technique you get from the books, I also strongly dislike getting my phone all sticky when trying to hold it and shake a drink at the same time.