Features short essays on each subject, with classic illustrations accompanying each, all in a handsome package that will evoke thoughts of a trusted old leather-bound book.
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About the Author
Stephen Alexander Davis is an illustrator living in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, he got his artistic start by drawing fake Pokémon cards for his friends. Ever since he can remember he has always been interested in narrative illustration, and after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design he made a career of igniting the imagination through visual storytelling. Stephen enjoys gardening and playing with his dog Bruno.
John McCarthy is a 25 year publishing veteran who last served as Senior Managing Editor and spirits and cocktail pundit at Men’s Health magazine. Since his departure in 2016, McCarthy travels the world in search of fine wine and spirits, amazing adventures and incredible stories for Roads & Kingdoms, Forbes, Men’s Health, Maxim, JW Marriott magazine, Bourbon+, and Gear Patrol. When home, McCarthy resides in Queens, NY.
Read an Excerpt
Any commoner can fuel an evening with ye-olde-12-pack and a box-o-wine, but the refined gentleman doesn’t roll that way. When it comes to hosting, what you serve your friends and family defines you. The ability to create delicious, memorable cocktails—signature drinks around which a party swirls—separates mediocrity from guys with the ability to entertain, impress and indulge in incredible libations for the rest of your days. Be that guy.
Chances are you’re already a bartender, even if you aren’t good at it. I certainly wasn’t. It was a dark time for cocktails before the mixology scene gained momentum in New York City a decade ago. The idea of creating refined concoctions meticulously crafted to showcase, but not overpower, the qualities of carefully curated spirits wasn’t a thing; nobody was Instagramming their Chocolate Negronis. Cocktails with friends meant drowning cheap booze in sugary juice or soda, and you knew going in that tomorrow was going to hurt. Primitive as it was, we were still making drinks, and eventually, things evolved. Sloppy rum-and-Cokes were replaced with slick martinis and tart, spicy margaritas—a whole new world from which you’ll never go back.
The fundamentals of balancing spirit, sour (acidity), bitter, and sweet is the cornerstone of what makes a drink taste good, and building the skills to produce quality drinks begins with mastering the classics. These quintessential cocktails are the foundations of modern mixology, and learning them is key to a lifetime of drinking well. All it takes is a handful of bar tools, a few key ingredients, and practice, practice, practice. But hey, that’s the best part.
HOME BAR ESSENTIALS: THE BASICS (2-4 pages)
Raising your mixology game requires a bit of preparation, and you’ll need a few tools to establish a basic home bar. No need to buy expensive stuff, instead invest in decent quality barware, and like all tools, keep them clean and well-maintained and they should last. Cocktailkingdom.com or Thecraftybartender.com are good rescources.
Shaker: Here is the quintessential vessel in which you build your cocktail. Pick up a small, medium, and a large shaker, using the large for multiple drinks and the small and medium for single cocktails.
Jigger: Master mixologists measure their alcohol to assure balance and consistency. Start with a 1 oz. and 2 oz. jigger with ¼ ounce incremental markings on the inside.
Barspoon: The long-handled swizzle on a bar spoon is a vital tool that’s instrumental in stirring Manhattan’s, Negronis and Old Fashioneds.
Hawthorn Strainer: This strainer sits atop a shaker to pour out your drinks. Just pop the coil inside the perimeter of the shaker, then use your index finger to gently push the strainer forward and pour.
Bar Knife: Instrumental in cutting fruit and slicing a twist of orange or lemon. You don’t need anything fancy here, just sharp. I prefer a serrated knife, but that’s your call. Kuhn Rikon makes an inexpensive, highly effective reliable bar blade for about $10.
Muddler: Smash, macerate and destroy herbs, fruits, and other ingredients with this cool tool. Sure, you can use a wooden spoon, but a solid muddler does a superior job that’s well worth the $20. Look for a plastic shaft with teeth on one end and rounded on the other.
Speed pour: This may seem fussy, but it’s easier to nail exact measurements in a jigger with this tool. The more you practice, the easier it will become to control your pour.
Placing a beautifully crafted cocktail in an inferior vessel is inexcusable. These three styles of appropriate glassware will accommodate look presentable.
Martini glass: Try a 6-ouncer so your 4-oz. Martini has a little breathing room.
Rocks/Old Fashioned glass: Cut glass or clear, it’s your call. Always seek out a rocks glass that feels good in your hand.
High ball/Collins glass: Size matters here. A 12 oz. will accommodate nicely.
To make these following classics, you will need these bottles on hand.
Vodka: There is plenty of quality, inexpensive vodka. Just stay away from the bottom shelf.
Whiskey: Bourbon and rye
Gin: New School and London Dry
Silver rum: Bacardi does the job, but here are hundreds of interesting rums to explore
Silver 100% agave tequila: Make sure it says this on the bottle.
Campari: This bitter, Italian liqueur is a popular pre-dinner ‘aperitif’ that’s an essential element in a Negroni.
Vermouth: Sweet Italian and Dry French
A martini is a fancy glass of chilled gin or vodka, dry vermouth, and a garnish. Yep, that’s it. But that doesn’t mean making one is a slam dunk. The secret to a killer martini is making it extremely cold without over-diluting, which is why stirring is preferred to shaking, regardless of how James Bond liked/likes his. From there, it’s all a matter of style. Martini styles range from an old timey, 1:1 ratio to bone dry versions with barely a whisper of vermouth to a what? While today’s standard is 3:1. This recipe is dryer, but not too dry.
What you need: Shaker, strainer, bar spoon, jigger
Glassware: 6 oz. Martini glass
3 ½ oz. Gin or vodka
½ oz. Dry vermouth
How to make it: Add ingredients and ice to shaker, and stir until very cold, about 30 seconds. Strain straight up in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with olives or a lemon twist, and serve.
Riffing on the Classics
Dirty: Replace ½ oz. spirit with olive juice.
Filthy: Use ¾ oz. olive juice. Any more than that is a mess.
Espresso: Combine 2 oz. vodka with 1 oz. espresso and 1 oz. Baileys. Shake. Strain up in a martini glass, and garnish with 3 espresso beans.
Berry: In a shaker, muddle 2 raspberries, one blackberry, half a strawberry or the equivalent?Like “anything of your choice”? Add 3 oz. spirit, ½ oz. simple syrup, and ½ oz. lemon juice. Shake, and fine strain straight up in a martini glass.
Gibson: Swap out the olives or peel for cocktail onions.
Raise Your Mixology Game: Blue cheese hand-stuffed olives
Hand-stuffed olives only take a few minutes to prepare and blow away expensive pre-made brands. Stuff ‘queen’ pitted olives with quality blue cheese or gorgonzola. Skewer, and drop into your drink for a decadent upgrade.
The best Manhattan is made with ingredients that you like, not some swirly, moustached mixologist. So, if you prefer a vanilla laden bourbon over a spicy, fruity rye, put that in your cocktail. Experimenting with different Italian, or sweet vermouths will also help hone your personal style. Manhattans are served straight up or atop a king cube, preferably garnished with a quality brandied cherry, not a syrupy, neon maraschino. Pro Tip: Remember New York City’s area code, 2-1-2, and you won’t forget the Manhattan’s measurements: 2 oz. rye-1oz. vermouth-2 dashes bitters.
What you need: Shaker, strainer, bar spoon, jigger
Glassware: Rocks glass or 6 oz. martini glass
2 oz. Rye whiskey
1 oz. Sweet vermouth, such as Antica Formula; Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino
2 dashes Angostura bitters
How to make it: Fill shaker hallway with ice. Add ingredients, and stir until extremely cold, about 30 seconds. Strain straight-up in a chilled martini glass or over a king cube in a rocks glass. Garnish with brandied cherries.
Riffing on the Classics
Dry: Replace sweet, Italian vermouth with a dry vermouth.
Perfect: Replace 1 oz. sweet vermouth with ½ oz. sweet and ½ oz. dry vermouth.
Black: Swap out vermouth for Averna, a bittersweet Italian digestif. Go with a 3 or 4:1 ratio of whiskey to liqueur to suit your taste.
Metropolitan: Like it drier? Pull back the vermouth for a 3:1 ratio for this whiskey forward version.
Burning Question: What the hell is vermouth?
Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine that has been spiked with alcohol (usually brandy) and a recipe of herbs, bitters, citrus, and spices. Think star anise, juniper, clove, and cinnamon bark. Vermouth was invented in Italy in the 18th century, yet its name was derived from the German word "wermut," which translates to wormwood, a bitter TK. The two most common varieties are Italian sweet vermouth, used in Manhattans, and dry, French vermouth, which is favored in Martinis.
Back in the 19th century, a "cocktail" was a specific drink, just like a Collins, Flip and Rickey, and had five ingredients: a base spirit, bitters, sugar, water (or ice), and peel. It was after prohibition when the "cocktail" evolved into the blanket name for any mixed drink. So, to get the real thing, a gentleman would request an ‘old fashioned’ whiskey cocktail. The name stuck. This classic recipe calls for the traditional method of muddling a sugar cube in a rocks glass and dissolving it with a touch of club soda. But when mixing for a crowd, it’s cool to build it in a shaker and use ½ oz. of simple syrup (page XX) to quickly crank out drinks.
What You Need: Muddler, knife, bar spoon
Glassware: Rocks or old fashioned
2 oz. Rye or bourbon
1 Sugar cube (preferably demerara but white sugar cubes work)
2 Dashes Angostura bitters
2 Dashes orange bitters
Orange or lemon peel
How to make it: In a rocks glass, add sugar, a splash of club soda, and bitters. Muddle into a thick slurry. Add whiskey and a king cube or a few chunks of ice, and stir until cold. Twist orange peel to release the oils, rub the rim of the glass, and drop into drink.
Riffing on the Classics
Gin Old Fashioned: Pull back on the sugar (¼ oz.) and use a few dashes of orange bitters in lieu of Angostura with your favorite gin for a refreshing botanical based sipper.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned: Replace whiskey with smoky mezcal, then swap out the Angostura bitters for a chocolate variety if you seek them out. Or just stick with orange.
Apple Brandy Old Fashioned: Swap out whiskey for apple brandy and go with ½ oz. maple syrup instead of sugar. Two dashes of Angostura bitters and a peel. Just like the classic.
Burning Question: What the hell are bitters?
Bitters are concentrated flavoring agents for cocktails made with high proof alcohol and a recipe of botanicals, regarded by bartenders as the salt of their trade. Used in thousands of cocktails, bitters help balance drinks and accent flavors. While Trinidad’s Angostura remains a staple in any bar, they are no longer the only game in town. Check out cocktail kingdom.com where you will find hundreds of interesting flavors to explore.