For this, the very first “Books that Cook” blog posting, it is only fitting that I offer up for your consideration the most influential guide to mixology ever written – The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury. Last year, Mud Puddle Books, headed up by cocktail historian and book collector, Greg Boehm, lovingly and accurately reproduced The Fine Art. Thank you, Greg! It’s a delightful must-read for any bartender or mixologist worth his or her bitters.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a book for bartenders only. In fact, Embury himself was not a professional producer or maker of drinks, but rather a dedicated enthusiast with a witty pen and definitive opinions on how a proper cocktail should be prepared. For instance, as I was reading Embury’s take on my favorite drink, the Old Fashioned, I was delighted to read that “Water, either plain or charged, has no more place in an Old-Fashioned than it has in a Manhattan or a Martini.” (Old Fashioneds should be made with simple syrup, in my and Embury’s opinion, not with dry sugar and water.)
The Fine Art is not a recipe book, either. Yes, there are over 600 recipes inside, but what makes this book so special is how Embury explains not just the how behind making a really good cocktail, but the why. He covers every aspect, from the purpose of a cocktail to the proper glassware to the essential ingredients: a base (spirits), a modifying agent (aromatics like bitters, fruit juices, or “miscellaneous ‘smoothing’ agents” like sugar, cream, or eggs), and sometimes a special flavoring and coloring agent (cordials, liqueurs, or non-alcoholic fruit syrups). He is logical, practical, and so much fun to read… If this gem of a paragraph doesn’t convince you of The Fine Art‘s worth, nothing will:
“The well-made cocktail is one of the most gracious of drinks. It pleases the senses. The shared delight of those who partake in common of this refreshing nectar breaks the ice of formal reserve. Taut nerves relax; taut muscles relax; tired eyes brighten; tongues loosen; friendships deepen; the whole world becomes a better place in which to live.”
Do you have a favorite drink book? I’d love to know what it is!