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Sunday Serendipity
BOOK REVIEW: Drinkology

Drinkology--The Art and Science of the Cocktail by James Waller
Revised and Updated Edition, 372 pages, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York 2010
Price: US $22.50, Canada $29.50

By Stephen Eliot

In the preface to his newly published revised edition of Drinkology: The Art and Science Of The Cocktail, author James Waller looks back at the remarkable changes in the popular cocktail culture since the book’s initial publication some seven years back.

“Seven years ago, it was difficult to find any brand or type of bitters other than good old Angostura.”

“Seven years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a single bottle of rye whiskey or Absinthe in most American liquor stores.”

“Seven years ago, it was the rare bar or restaurant that truly cared about the proper mixing and serving of cocktails”.

Such observations among others are followed the by the happy conclusion that things are “wonderfully changed”, and, while celebrating those changes, Drinkology’s new version remains one of the more practical guides to the lore and craft of the cocktail to be had. It is not a coffee-table book. It has no pictures aside from a few scattered sketches, and attention to small details such as a sewn binding that allows it to lie flat on the counter and a waterproof cover much appreciated by stiff-fingered mixologists such as myself says that this is a book from someone who knows his way around a bar.

It does not wander into the esoteric realms of exotic, impossible-to-find ingredients, and it’s very accessible style is seasoned with a bit of irreverence aimed at those whose almost fundamentalist zeal comes with unbending opinions about the one and only right way to do things be it the creation of custom infusions and bitters to strict adherence to classic recipes. In other words, this is a book for real people in real situations, and it succeeds brilliantly at being just that. One of my pet peeves about a good many books on making mixed drinks is that they lack cogent organization and defy easy access, but Waller’s little volume starts with sensible sections on stocking a bar and basic cocktail technique, and then follows with chapters whose topic-tabbed pages are organized by respective spirit types running the gamut from whiskey, rum and brandy to sake, tequila and gin thus making its 450 tried-and-true recipes easy to find. All of the classics are here as are more than a few innovative new drinks, and there is enough information to please the professional and the enthusiastic newcomer alike.

I don’t know that there is any one book that covers everything that I might want and need to know about the topic, but the latest edition of Drinkology has joined Dale deGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail and Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology among those that I reach for first.

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