Making cocktails at home, while an elegant treat for your guests and yourself, can be a bit overwhelming. To help, we chose three new books to aid those of different levels of bartending skill and aspiration. Whether your goal is to stir up a quick after-work gimlet, to perfect your Sazerac or to master the classic mai tai, each of these books will help build your cocktail crafting.
“SIP: 100 Gin Cocktails with only 3 ingredients”
The “Know-How” chapter of this satisfying new book from the founders of London’s Sipsmith Distillery starts like this: “One of the secrets of great drinks … is balance … balancing strong against weak (spirit against dilution), sour against sweet (usually citrus against sugar), and modifying these further with spice (bitters or vermouth).” Following those simple guidelines, the founders offer loads of doable recipes for imaginative yet approachable gin cocktails. Sipsmith’s Master Distiller Jared Brown also has a passion for reviving lost drinks, like the bijou, a 19th century cocktail that resembles a Negroni made with green chartreuse. Reach for this book when you want to put together a simple drink for a simple situation: “I have gin, I have chartreuse, what shall I make?”
HOT GIN AND TONIC
Makes: 1 drink
It gets rather chilly in London Town, but this toddy brings the classic gin and tonic to the table the full year-round. Tonic syrup can be purchased at some liquor stores and also online.
2 parts London dry gin
1 part bottled tonic syrup
3 parts boiling water
Orange twist for garnish
Combine the ingredients (except the orange twist) in a coffee mug or heatproof glass, stir, garnish, serve.
“How to Cocktail”
America’s Test Kitchen has finally come out with an encouraging bar manual that’s as trustworthy as its cookbooks. Packed with straightforward, unromantic, no-nonsense information, this technique-driven tome offers perfect clarity for the home bartender. As with ATK’s cookbooks, each drink has a “why this recipe works” column that explains the process. If you want to make your own tonic syrup, vermouth, clear ice or bitters, they’ve got thoughtful recipes for those. (I am tempted to make the “fruits of the forest” berry liqueur for everyone on my holiday gift list this year. Cleverly, it calls for freeze-dried fruit.) But for those who just want to craft a well-tested margarita with no pretense, this is the book. Unsurprisingly, all the classics appear, but the addition of lesser-known cocktails adds whimsy — check out the Bichon Frise, a cuter version of the classic greyhound. Plus there’s a unique recipe for clarified milk punch that sounds completely doable, and completely delicious.
Makes: 1 cocktail
It can be hard to reckon a liqueur made from artichokes, but the herbal, vegetal Cynar (an Italian artichoke-flavored liqueur) has earned an important place on the bar cart. This stirred cocktail shows off its earthy relationship with tequila. The book calls for a smoky chile sugar rim; we prefer it with a simpler lemon peel garnish.
2 ounces reposado tequila
3/4 ounce Cynar
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 strip lemon peel
Add tequila, Cynar and vermouth to a mixing glass and fill three-quarters full with ice. Stir until mixture is fully combined and well chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Pinch the lemon peel over the drink and rub the outer edge of the glass, then drop into the drink and serve.
“The NoMad Cocktail Book”
Taken straight from Manhattan’s renowned NoMad Bar, these recipes from author and award winning bar director Leo Robitschek keep no secrets — he offers exact formulas, complete with all the brands specified, so that home mixologists can replicate the 300 complex cocktails within. Most of the drinks contain numerous ingredients — when I first paged through the book I found only one recipe I could mix without going to the liquor store (and I have a well-stocked drink writer’s liquor cabinet). And many call for elaborate syrups, tinctures and the like, whose recipes are also provided, for maximum precision of flavor. The cocktails are credited to each NoMad employee by name, where appropriate, and, true to form, specify the proper glassware and ice size for success.
NoMad staffs a busy bar prep team to prepare the fresh juices, garnishes and syrups detailed in the book, which feature ingredients like kumquats, kombucha squash, chicken jus, olive oil washed tequila and rum infused with raisins. You may need to hire a crew, or at least plan ahead, to recreate drinks like the spiced carrot colada or the topanga, a tequila Tiki concoction that features a chai yogurt syrup. But the rewards are great. This book exists for the adventurous barkeep, the exacting bar scientist or the armchair mixologist who wants to read and dream about drinks they may never mix up.
1 barspoon grenadine (house-made)
1 barspoon triple sec (Combier)
1 1/2 ounces blanc vermouth (Dolin de Chambery)
1 1/2 ounces white rum (Cana Brava)
In a chilled mixing glass, combine all the ingredients except the garnish. Fill the mixing glass with 1 1/4 inch ice cubes and stir. Strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe. Express the grapefruit twist over the drink and then insert it into the glass.