Monday, April 18, 2011

The Greatest Drink Book Ever Published

Booze geeks debate endlessly on the merits of various drink books, but is there one that definitively rises above the rest? Strong arguments can be made for such venerable tomes as Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tender's Guide , David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. What about Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology or Jones' Complete Bar Guide? Or Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail or Charles H. Baker's The Gentleman's Companion- Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask? (Which frankly deserves some sort of recognition for the length of its title alone)

Yeah, they're all good, but as far as I'm concerned, the greatest drink book ever published is a slender yet sumptuous offering titled Cocktails for Two.


This is the cover. And it only gets better.

This book came into my possession via Rick Stutz, who knew I would appreciate its charms. Written by Helen Spence with a host of contributing photographers, it is simply an astounding work.

It's really impossible to do proper justice to this book with words. Cocktails for Two needs to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated. It's a mere 127 pages long, but almost half the book is full-page color photographs of men and (mostly)women in various costumes and settings that reflect different drinks. Now that I think about it, maybe "reflect" isn't the right word. Perhaps "interpret" is more accurate.

The remaining half is mostly recipes with a few pages devoted to cocktail-making fundamentals and brief overviews of base spirits. There are actually a fair number of vintage (and decent) cocktails sprinkled throughout, but the real treasures are the "Who in God's name was drinking these?" drinks.

I should mention at this point that this book was published in 1982, and it absolutely reeks of the early 80's...both aesthetically and in the recipes selected for inclusion. And when I say "reeks" I mean that in the best way possible. Cocktails for Two is a glorious fusion of post-Disco-era visual style and drink recipes that have more sugar and colors than a box of Fruity Pebbles. Remember Isaac from The Love Boat? This is the book he had behind the bar.

Of course the efficient thing to do would be to set up a Flickr account and just post scans of all the photos. But that would be reckless and irreverent. The intensity of this book is such that it needs to be consumed slowly, page by page. Which is why I'll be doling it out in small doses.


All aboard the S.S. Emesis!

The photo above accompanies a drink called the Commodore. I'll get to the drink in a sec, but for now let's just marinate in the picture: Clearly soused blonde hugging a pole (For support? Part of a "come-hither" strategy?). Hot-rod nails and matching lipstick in the process of being stripped away by a roaming tongue. Naval officer's uniform that appears to be stolen, and dangerously unsecured ropes framing the whole tableau. And look at the size of that drink. This looks like either an ad for a nautical-themed gentleman's club or a publicity still from an 80's teen sex comedy. Which is to say it's awesome. The whole book is like this, folks.

As for the drink itself, here it is exactly as written in the book:

COMMODORE Shake four parts rye with one part fresh lime juice and two dashes of orange bitters. Add sugar if required.

(Next to the recipe are drawings of a cocktail glass and a rocks glass, so I guess you can use whichever one strikes your fancy. )

I admit I haven't actually made this drink yet. When I do, I'll report back and let you know whether it's as good as the photo that accompanies it. But somehow I doubt that's possible.