Thursday, December 31, 2015

Booknote: The 12 Bottle Bar

David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, The 12 Bottle Bar: a Dozen Bottles, Hundreds of Cocktails, a New Way to Drink. New York: Workman Publishing, 2014. ISBN:  9780761174943.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: recipe books, alcoholic spirits, cocktails
Format: paperback
Source: My local public library

This was a book I requested through NetGalley at first, but they actually declined my request; that happens once in a while, though less often now. Anyhow, I went on and read other stuff, then I saw my public library got it, so I decided to give it a try. After reading it, I had some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the idea is intriguing, and you do get a lot of recipes to try out. On the other hand, the book suffers from what many bartender books often suffer: a bit of a preachy, snooty attitude and a little snobbishness when it comes to ingredients. Sure, acquiring the 12 bottles they suggest is not insurmountable, but you do need to account for mixers, juices, and other ingredients. And once the default to get stuff is Amazon, you realize things may not be as accessible as they make it sound. In other words, many things they mention are not things you would get locally. If buying local is a thing for you, this book will not further that aim. This may not be a big deal if you have a credit card handy with a number you are willing to share with Amazon, but otherwise, you may just have to make do.

In case you are wondering, here are the 12 bottles. No, I am not spoiling anything. In fact, the authors even have a website where they mention them:

  • Brandy
  • Dry gin
  • Genever
  • Amber Rum
  • White Rum
  • Rye Whiskey
  • Vodka
  • Orange Liqueur
  • Dry and Sweet Vermouth
  • Aromatic and Orange Bitters
I know. Tequila is missing. The authors knew you would notice that too, and they explain their choice to leave it out:

"Where's the tequila? Well, aside from the Margarita, the Paloma, and the Tequila Sunrise, tequila just isn't called for in that many old-school cocktails" (7). 

The authors acknowledge that many bartenders today are getting more creative with tequila and mezcal, but their goal is efficiency, so no tequila for them. In my case, I am hanging on to my bottles of tequila and mezcal.

The book is arranged into four initial chapters dealing with bar tools (including an almost masters thesis on ice quality that I found a bit much) followed by chapters for a 1 bottle bar, a 3 bottle bar, and a 4 bottle bar. These chapters are to show that you can make quite a few cocktails with a few bottles (as long as you have the other things you will need to mix in with the liquor). This is then followed by a chapter for each featured bottle, and finally four more chapters on hosting, beer, wine, and cider drinks, virgin drinks, and garnishes, syrups, and liqueurs. In addition, there are appendices/sections for resources, conversion tables, and drinks by theme.

A nice feature of the book is the trivia. The authors include various inserts with trivia on liquors, famous bars, and other bar and drinking lore. That adds to the book in terms of entertainment value. Also, for each bottle, they make recommendations that include price points. Of course, feel free to use  your preferred brands if you already have preferences. Each recipe has an introductory paragraph or two so you can learn the about recipe history and other details. Some recipes are more accessible than others, so your mileage may vary. Much of the emphasis is in old school recipes; if you are a fan of the show Mad Men, for example, this book may be for you.

As I said, I had a mixed experience reading it. I wanted to like this more, but some issues in tone and structure of recipes, costs (additional ingredients, accessibility of said ingredients, viability) keep me from rating it higher. If I were to find a copy in a second hand shop down the road, I might consider adding it to my small collection of cocktail recipe books as a novelty. Otherwise, I see this more as a book to borrow and browse.

And I end this note with a memorable quote from the book:

"The desire to improve oneself is the essential quality to learning how to make better drinks" --Chris McMillan, bartender (39). 

3 out of 5 stars.

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

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