By the book: Classic, collectable vintage cocktail books

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Bartenders today are blessed with an array of witty, wise – and eminently collectible – contemporary and vintage cocktail books to choose from. Tom Innes takes a look…


One of the most significant recent milestones in the drinks industry was reached in 2006, and it marked 200 years since the word ‘cocktail’ was first defined in print, on the pages of a New York newspaper.

It would appear logical that the first cocktail book would have followed soon after, but logic and booze don’t always sit easily together. In fact, it wasn’t until 1862, an incredible 56 years later, that such a book made it into print in the form of How to Mix Drinks by ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas.

Many other writers and bartenders have since committed their recipes and methods to print, but Thomas is recognised as the first. A revival of interest in the original drinks of the 19th century has meant the (self-appointed) Professor has received more acclaim in the past two decades than in the 100 years following his death in 1885.

At the same time as Thomas was plying his trade, Harry Johnson was also making drinks at bars in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans and Boston, before ending up, like Thomas, in New York.

WORDS OF WISDOM

Johnson’s The Bartender’s Manual was published in 1882 and updated in 1900; as well as recipes, the book contains timeless advice on best practice for a bartender, such as supplying iced water with every drink, and mixing drinks above the counter where guests can see them, in a ‘neat, clean and scientific’ manner.

These two books paved the way, but during the first half of the 20th century, the volume of volumes increased markedly. Many of the key texts were attached to specific venues, notably The Hoffman House Bartenders’ Guide by Charley Mahoney (1905), The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930) and The Café Royal Cocktail Book by William J Tarling (1937).

With bartenders in America battling with the considerable distraction of Prohibition between 1920 and 1933, British authors stepped forward to fill the gap.

Tarling was president of the UK Bartenders’ Guild and founding president of the International Bartenders Association in the 1950s. His recipes included ‘modern’ cocktails alongside the 19th-century classics, and he encouraged readers to try the new drinks to break ‘the monotonous repetition of Martini, Bronx, Manhattan and White Lady cocktails’.

David Embury really understands

mixability and if I was recommending

one book, it would be his – Agostino Perrone

However not all the seminal books were written by practising bartenders. Widely considered a ‘must have’ for any serious collection, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks was first published in 1948 by David A Embury, a New York attorney who makes clear that he had ‘never been engaged in any of the manifold branches of the liquor business’ and that his experience of cocktails was ‘entirely as a consumer and as a shaker-upper of drinks for the delectation of my guests’.

Embury’s book is just one of the classic titles that has recently been reprinted by Cocktail Kingdom, an imprint set up by Greg Boehm of Mud Puddle Books in New York. Other titles in the Cocktail Kingdom range include faithfully authentic reprints of Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson, with forewords by contemporary authorities David Wondrich and Robert Hess, as well as The Modern Bartender’s Guide by O H Byron (1884) and Barflies and Cocktails by Harry McElhone (1923), a book described by historian Wondrich as ‘one of the greatest of its kind’.

The Cocktail Kingdom venture may have affected the value of original editions on the open market, but it has also opened up the precious texts to working bartenders who want to learn but have previously lacked the necessary spending power.

‘The reprints are great and succeed in bringing these works to the “masses” – a good thing, as prices among serious collectors were getting silly,’ says renowned mixologist Angus Winchester.

‘David Embury really understands mixability and if I was recommending one book to a beginner, it would be his,’ says Agostino Perrone, who tends bar at the Connaught Hotel, one of London’s foremost venues for classic cocktails.

Perrone also pays tribute to the research of Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, whose work in setting up the Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiriteux (EUVS) includes publishing key texts.

Jigger, Beaker and Glass by Charles H Baker, first published in 1939 under the title The Gentleman’s Companion, is another of Perrone’s favourites. A collection of the recipes encountered and enjoyed by Baker on his extensive travels, the book also uses some sharp, colourful prose that makes reading it a pleasure.

Baker punctuates his recipes with advice – or ‘words to the liquid wise’ as he describes it – and his list of cocktail recipes includes ‘17 hot helpers’ and ‘five delicious champagne opportunities’. One of the most memorable lessons he dispenses concerns the ideal temperature to serve a cocktail: ‘A warm cocktail is like other half-way objects in life – neither this nor that and often a reflection on the judgment and discretion of those present.’

PAST MASTERS

Mike Aikman, who set up Bramble in Edinburgh, agrees that Embury’s book is ‘number one by far’, but also pays tribute to the unashamedly geeky Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie, by Ted ‘Dr Cocktail’ Haigh (2004) and Wondrich’s Imbibe (2007). Winchester describes Wondrich as ‘the most important non-working bartender’ in the field.

Paul Mant, bar manager at Quo Vadis in Soho, owns only a handful of his own cocktail books but says that he regularly dips into the extensive collection of his assistant bar manager, ‘whenever Fraser [Chapman] will let me’.

‘Gary Regan’s book [The Joy of Mixology, published in 2003] is fantastic – that’s the
one I’d recommend if people were just going to buy a single book.

‘It’s amazing how relevant the oldest books still are,’ Mant adds. ‘I thought using sugar syrup in an Old Fashioned was a modern shortcut, but Jerry Thomas was recommending it and warning that it could take 20 minutes to make the drink with granulated sugar – many modern bars forget lessons like that.’ 


COLLECTORS’ CORNER

JEFF MASSON

Jeff Masson, a London-based freelance who formerly worked at venues including Rick’s in Edinburgh and Lonsdale in Notting Hill, has a collection of hundreds of bartending books, including a first edition of Embury. It cost him £10 a few years ago, whereas the going rate now would be upwards of £150.

Masson says he still enjoys browsing the shelves in second-hand bookshops when he comes across them, but has built his collection largely through the internet, using sites such as Abe Books, eBay and Amazon.

‘The first cocktail book I read was Dale DeGroff’s Craft of the Cocktail, which got me interested and searching for the sources that were quoted by Dale in his bibliography,’ Masson explains.

Besides Embury, Masson quotes Harry Johnson, Jerry Thomas and the Hoffman House and Café Royal books as the ones he’d rescue first if his house was on fire. If money were no object his next purchase would be an original copy of The Ideal Bartender, written by Tom Bullock, published in 1917 and currently fetching around $4,000.

ANGUS WINCHESTER

Angus Winchester has 20 years’ experience in the bar trade and has consulted on bar projects and educated bartenders around the world. He co-founded IP Bartenders, set up Tiki destination Trailer Happiness in London and is a global ambassador for Tanqueray gin.

‘My key books are really David Embury, Harry Johnson, Jerry Thomas, Imbibe by David Wondrich, Charles H Baker, Paul Harrington’s Cocktail – The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century (1998) and The Bartender’s Guide by Jack Townsend and Tom Moore McBride (1951).

‘I bought most of my books through www.abebooks.com, having identified them through reading the bibliographies in other books. When I started it was easy, and a number of people sneered, but my feeling was that books never lose their value and that information is key. I bought cheap and now the books and the information are more valuable.’


Standing the test of time

Tens of thousands of drinks have been chronicled since 1862. Here is a small selection of recipes that have evolved over the years…

MELBA COCKTAIL

(quoted by Harry Craddock)

35ml Bacardi Superior rum
25ml Swedish Punsch
5ml pomegranate grenadine
2.5ml absinthe
15ml lime juice

Method: Shake and fine-strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a mint leaf.


LITTLE DEVIL

(quoted by Harry McElhone)

20ml Bacardi Superior rum
20ml Bombay Sapphire
20ml Cointreau
10ml lemon juice

Method: Shake and fine-strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.


MARTINEZ COCKTAIL

(quoted by Jerry Thomas)

1 dash of Boker’s bitters
2 dashes of maraschino
1 pony of Old Tom gin
1 wine glass of vermouth
2 small lumps of ice

Method: Shake thoroughly, and strain into a cocktail glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon into the glass, and serve. If the customer prefers their cocktail very sweet, add two dashes of gomme syrup.


MANHATTAN

(quoted by O H Byron)

2 dashes curaçao
2 dashes Angostura bitters
½ wine glass Wild Turkey rye whiskey
½ wine glass Italian vermouth

Method: Stir well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September / October 2009

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