I like making cocktails at home, but it usually involves a lot of tasting or tinkering for me to get them right. The Cocktail Primer takes out the guesswork and offers an interesting way to categorize drink types. I received a review copy of this book and was happy to expand my cocktail knowledge while trying a few drinks along the way. Eben Klemm, master mixologist and head bartender of B.R. Guest Restaurants, organized this book by grouping descendants from master drinks. He offers six master drink classes, which are defined by style and technique, and the cocktails that belong to each group. For instance, from the martini comes the vesper and negroni. These drinks are not sweet or acidic, and they have a high alcohol content. They each have a primary and a secondary spirit but no fruit or sweet liqueurs. There is also a wealth of cocktail history sprinkled throughout the book. I learned that martinis weren’t always such strong drinks. Originally, they contained a more equal ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth and bitters. As the quality of gin and vodka has improved over the years, there became less need to mask the taste of the liquor, and the modern martini is now much more alcoholic. And, should you shake or stir? Klemm explains that as well. You should shake to aerate and slightly dilute a drink and stir for a more elegant, still result.
I found myself drawn to the chapter about simple sours. These drinks all include one type of liquor, some form of citrus for acidity, and a small amount of sweetness for balance. The fizz was particularly interesting because of the egg white foam that results on top. A fizz should be shaken to aerate the egg white and blend it with the liquor of choice, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters. These can be made with gin, whiskey, or rum, and they are finished with a splash of both club soda and red wine. First, I tried a gin fizz, and Kurt and I were both unsure about the flavor and texture combination. Next, I made the same drink with whiskey instead, and we both preferred that version by far. The fizz is shown in the photo at the bottom of this post. Since the gin didn’t work for us in the first cocktail, I tried it again in a true sour. This time, rather than using plain simple syrup, I took Klemm’s advice about trying flavored syrups and made one infused with rosemary. The gin, lemon juice, and rosemary syrup were shaken with ice, and the mixture was strained over fresh ice in a glass. A dash of bitters was added along with a splash of soda, and it was garnished with a maraschino cherry. The true sour is shown in the photo above. It was fresh-tasting, and the lemon and rosemary combined well with gin.
This book does a great job of simplifying the world of cocktails and helping you understand them from the inside out. Once you master the basics and learn about variations on some general themes, you can start getting creative. In the final chapter, there are a few examples of complex sours that make use of more ingredients than the other cocktails in the book. I’m looking forward to trying the paradiso with white peach-white pepper foam that’s made with limoncello. Then, I might be ready to invent a signature cocktail or two of my own.