Sunday, November 23, 2008

Book Review -- Artisanal Cocktais

Hi! I'm a lazy bastard, how's it going? Remember how I was all talking about that Scott Beattie book signing, then never took the time to write about it, or the book? Yeah, those were good times weren't they? To make it up to you, I'm going to go ahead and tell you all about it. I know that doesn't sound like I'm making up for anything, but rather performing my bloggerly duty, but that's just because you're wrong. I mean I love you.

As somebody who is not in a position to likely ever get up to Cyrus to try the drinks of Mr. Beattie, I was pretty excited to have a chance to get my lips on some of his concoctions. They were quite impressive, and tasty, with the Painful Punch rocking my world. To be technical, I would have to resort to the official mixological trade classification of "hot damn!" The crowds got big in a hurry, so beyond drinking a painful amount of punch (zing!), and engaging in some celebrity shaking (not what it sounds like, and I'm happy to report that I never once jettisoned the pint glass off the boston and into the head of anybody standing behind me) I was out of there pretty quick.

While I partied modestly, I was still quite happy to have walked away with a copy of the book, Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus which was thoughtfully inscribed with "To the best bartender on the west coast, BFF Scott." I might have added that part myself later -- Don't judge me! Because I'm the sort to judge books by their cover, even before I have seen said cover, I was imagining a book which would be almost Thomas Kellerian in its complexity. Recipes with recipes, and mysterious ingredients that would have me asking, "What the hell is a floozlefruit bush, and where the fuck am I supposed to get a drachm of argon gas?" I was half right.

To be sure, this is not a book for beginners or even for the likes of me, but I didn't think it would be. On the other hand, I was happy to see space taken to talk about proper ice, measuring of ingredients, using fresh citrus, etc. I was also happy to see classics like the Gin and Tonic, and Last Word covered – But as I read through the book I kept had a hard time wrapping my mind around it.

Things like the use of lotus root chips, and foams (though I must admit it is a more restrained use than is often found) seemed a bit much, and the overwhelming emphasis on ingredients that would be hard to find outside of most major cities (but would never the less require a lot of shopping trips) sat weird with me. Still, I couldn't deny the innovative nature of what was being done, and as I said, this is not a book geared towards the fledgling enthusiast.

It wasn't until I read an insightful post about the book over at Underhill Lounge that I realized more what I was feeling about the book. He mentions that it may be that the drinks are more the non-spirit components than the spirits themselves that are the real focus of the drinks. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I wouldn't fight him on that point, and that's were I get stuck. The drinks I had were, as I said above, delicious, but the book seems like more of an academic study rather than a practical manual of drink making. Indeed , the drinks I love the most are those that feature the spirits and there nuances as the star.

But here's the thing – For all the words I've spent talking about the problems with the book, it's incredibly inspirational. It pushes the boundaries of what is thought of as a cocktail, and takes the west coast style of mixology to its most grand. This is not a book for people just taking their first steps into the cocktail world, but for folks who are looking for a bit of inspiration, and new ideas I'd say it's worth a read.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

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