Quills & Queues: Cocktail books give guidance on holiday mixology

It's holiday party time and with the celebrations many people like to enjoy a festive drink. This year, I decided to change up my usual beer and wine offerings and serve some sparkly cocktails, despite the fact that I know nothing about mixing drinks. Fortunately, the Ashland library has a number of books that offer not just recipes for the home bartender, but cheerful explorations of cocktail history and the joys of mixology.

“The Craft of the Cocktail,” by Dale DeGroff

This book has it all, big, glossy photos, more than 500 recipes and loads of tips on everything from creating garnishes to stocking the bar to mastering drink-making techniques. What makes it an especially fun read is DeGroff's easy, conversational tone as he discusses the history of spirits, such as the 19th century wave of mass immigration that brought new distilling techniques to the country, and the birth of the American cocktail. One of the best parts of the book is the big glossary in the back which details all manner of booze terms. It even explains the difference between “whiskey” and “whisky.” DeGroff is president of the Museum of the American Cocktail, an organization for studying and preserving the history of cocktails.

“Vintage Cocktails: Retro Recipes for the Home Mixologist,” by Amanda Hallay

This book is perfect for all those “Mad Men,” fans, and as the author writes, this isn't a book for people who want to emulate (“Sex in the City's”) Carrie Bradshaw, but for people who want to emulate glamorous Hollywood stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant or Grace Kelly. If you are looking to make a perfect martini, pink lady, or Manhattan (bourbon, vermouth, bitters), this is your book. Hallay prefaces each easy recipe with personal and historical anecdotes about the drink. She has a dry sense of humor and doesn't take drink-making too seriously, telling readers that enthusiasm and a sense of fun are the best ingredients for any cocktail party. The small book is illustrated with vintage-style drawings of both the drinks and the drinkers.

“Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times,” by Michael Dietsch

A shrub is a beverage that combines fruit or herbs and spices with vinegar. Used in ancient Egypt, and once a staple of early American pantries, the book includes recipes from Martha Washington and Ben Franklin. Shrubs can be mixed with alcohol or served with club soda for a refreshing drink. Dietsch, a bartender, food blogger and do-it-yourself shrub enthusiast, shares engaging stories of his own growing love for making shrubs as well as historical facts about the beverage. By the end of the book you'll be armed with a number of easy recipes for whipping up shrubs and related cocktails at home. This book isn't at the library yet, though it can be requested.

“Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide; 75th Anniversary Edition”

Keep this pocket-sized book handy while you're mixing your classic concoctions. This latest edition is organized by type of spirit rather than alphabetically. So if you are wondering how to use up that big bottle of gin your Uncle gave you last Christmas, it's easy to flip to the gin section and whip up a batch of Satan’s Whiskers (gin, vermouth, Grand Marnier) or the vodka pages to check out a Harvey Wallbanger (vodka, orange juice, Galliano).

One fun idea for your next party is the cocktail potluck. Ask each guest to bring one type of drink ingredient, such as a favorite juice, spirit or liqueur and then challenge yourselves to see how many different kinds of cocktails you can create together. The cocktail potluck concept works equally well for non-alcoholic drinks, so kids and designated drivers can join in on the game. Armed with these books, even a first-time home bartender can mix a good drink.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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