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Review of Imbibe by David Wondrich

Must-Read: Imbibe


Living in a cocktail town like San Francisco, I can't help but want to learn more about the ever-evolving art of mixology. Since I've enjoyed my fair share of old-fashioneds at Alembic and sazeracs at Rye, a friend got me a copy of Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar by David Wondrich.

Part cocktail-making manual, part biography, and part bartending history, Imbibe is delivered in the same quirky voice as Wondrich's drinks column for Esquire magazine, with a forward by Dale DeGroff. It's a fun book to read front to back, but it's also an extensive recipe collection. For a breakdown of what I liked and what I didn't, read more.

Wondrich's book is a tribute to Jerry Thomas, often considered the godfather of modern bartending thanks to his 1862 cocktail book, which Wondrich uses as a jumping-off point.

Pros:

  • It's a very fun read, full of edgy humor and hilarious histories.
  • The book provides a comprehensive breakdown of the cocktail's evolution, from potent punches consumed by army regiments to much-later Manhattans and martinis.
  • The methods and recipes are very authentic, so Wondrich tells you what modern-day ingredients are the closest approximations to the olden days.



Cons:

  • In his quest for historical accuracy, the recipes are presented in their original form and often annotated so heavily they are hard to follow.
  • Many of the more outlandish drinks are fun as curiosities but not something I'd like to make at home.

Recipes: The recipes are interwoven with bits of history and broken down by type (i.e. Punches, The Children of Punch, and Toddies, Slings, Juleps, and Such). The last chapter asks modern mixologists to come up with their own twists on old recipes. Some highlights:

  • Old-Fashioned Cocktail
  • John Collins
  • Philadelphia Fish House Punch
  • Tom and Jerry
  • Aviation Cocktail
  • Whiskey Peach Smash
  • Homemade Bitters and Fruit Syrups

Imagery: No photos, but there are a few historical illustrations of old bar tools and drinks.

Overall Rating: If you are into cocktails and want some good trivia to toss out at the bar, Imbibe is filled to the brim.

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