Fall Bookshelf: 4 new cocktail & spirits books

Fall is prime time for new book launches – here’s a short list of four of the latest crop of cocktail and spirits books I’ve particularly enjoyed, which I hope you’ll consider reading now or adding to holiday gift lists later.

ImageThe book: The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to keep you level (Sanders & Gratz)

The author:  Dinah Sanders, of cocktail blog Bibulo.us. The @bibulous feed has long been one one of my favorites to follow – the enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity where cocktails are concerned make for an irresistible mix.

Why I love it:  I want to make every drink in this book. The well-curated drinks are ringers – especially since I already have a soft spot for low-octane libations. And the luscious photos have a sweetly speakeasy-ish vibe.

Cocktail pick: Haberdasher, attributed to Josh Harris and Scott Baird, SF. (A great majority of the bartenders represented throughout the book are San Francisco based, really the only bone I have to pick with this book.)  It’s a delicious Negroni variation, equal parts Amontillado sherry, Gran Classico bitter, and Carpano Antica, finished with a couple of dashes of orange bitters and a lemon twist.

The Book:  Drink More Whiskey: Everything You Need to Know About Your New Favorite Drink (Chronicle Books)

The Author:  Daniel Yaffe, founder and editor-in-chief of Drink Me magazine

Why I love it: It’s right on topic, and right on time:  whiskey is clearly having a moment. And Yaffe’s done a good job of making this accessible and easy-reading, with fun bon mots like this one:  “A bartender once told me that white whiskey is like a distiller wearing only his underwear.” I just wish this book included photos, which would have added another layer of dimension.

Cocktail pick:  The cocktails sprinkled throughout the book feature whiskey, natch. And the one that got my attention was the Nail in the Coffin, a Rusty Nail variation that features Japanese whisky instead of Scotch, Licor 43 instead of Drambuie, and some added flavors (Madeira, Fernet Branca, cardamom) for complexity.

ApothecaryBook-150x150The Book:  Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today (Fair Winds Press)

The Author:  Warren Bobrow, aka “The Cocktail Whisperer.” Sometimes spotted at cocktail parties in the company of Klaus the Soused Gnome.

Why I love it:  First, a disclosure – I wrote a blurb for the book cover. In my opinion, “restorative” is a perfect adjective for cocktails, and the whole herbs-and-roots-and-spices-in-cocktails trend going on these days fits right in with the “restorative” context, and gives a great platform for cocktails that might not otherwise be featured. The photos are lush and have a great New Orleans old-school apothecary feel.

Cocktail pick: The Coconut Cooler. It’s offbeat and memorable and a little nutty. Basically, it involves drilling three holes in a chilled coconut and pouring in rhum agricole. There are more polished and elegant drinks in the book, but this is the one I most want to try.

Whiskey-Women-Cover-393x590The Book: Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey (Potomac Books)

The Author: Fred Minnick, whiskey writer

Why I love it: I learned something new on every page. This is not a light and fluffy book, and it’s not a book about whiskey cocktails. Rather, it’s deeply researched and takes an interesting angle (the role of women) as a way to talk about whiskey from a fresh perspective. I’d recommend it for someone who read and liked Dave Wondrich’s Punch and Imbibe.

Cocktail pick:  A dram of whiskey, of course.  (Whiskey Women has no cocktails, but no one’s going thirsty on my watch!)


Cognac and “Carbinacion”

Take a large mouthful [of cognac], but don’t swallow it now,” read the instructions in the letter to legendary writer Ernest Hemingway. “Swish it around in your mouth half a minute or so. Hold it. Now exhale through your nose– completely deflate your lungs. That’s right. Then swallow the cognac to get it out of the way. Open your mouth. Quickly! Inhale as deeply as you can.”

This odd little tippling technique is called Carburation, or in Spanish, Carbinacion, and I learned about it while reading “To Have and Have Another:  A Hemingway Cocktail Companion,” a new book from cocktail historian Philip Greene coming this November. It’s an educational and thirst-provoking read that has had me making Papa Dobles all week long.

Although Hemingway clearly loved his rum (and his absinthe, and his gin — Papa travelled often, and drank locally), it was this technique for drinking cognac that stopped me cold. I’ve never heard of this before.

Greene sets the scene in 1930s Havana, where Hemingway received this advice from Grant Mason, “a wealthy executive with Pan American Airlines, which had capitalized upon Prohibition by opening air routes to Havana.”

Mason announced that he had “a new way to drink called carburetion…based on the principle of carburetion in good engines,” Greene explains. By following this technique, Mason insisted, the brandy “enters your lungs in a fine mist that way. Goes into your blood stream faster, like a caruretor that gives the best mixture for burning in an engine.”

Now, I don’t know much about engines, but I thought I knew a thing or two about drinking. For example, it’s common in wine and spirits tasting to take a sip, swallow (or spit) and then exhale gently, a technique that somehow amplifies the flavors still lingering on the tongue and palate. But the sip-exhale-swallow-inhale box step is a new one on me.

So I tried it.

Greene specifies that “good Cognac” should be used for Carburetion, so I broke out a pour of Ferrand’s Selection des Anges. Sip. Exhale. Swallow. Inhale. The book notes that as Hemingway and friends “embraced caruretion with gusto…soon the room was filled with exhaling sounds like those of dying porpoises.”

Perhaps I was too dainty — taking a tentative sip, and exhaling not at all like a dying porpoise– and I didn’t exactly achieve Cognac nirvana through Carburetion. However, it did accomplish a fantastic job of aerating the spirit in my mouth, enhancing the flavors and elongating the finish in an intriguing way. And certainly I can see how much fun the acoustics could become with a room full of friends all trying the same noisy experiment.