Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Old vs. New in the Cocktail Game

As much as I love cocktails, it's possible that I actually love books about cocktails even more. I can't stop buying them.

Two of my most recent acquisitions are a vintage copy of Playboy's Host and Bar Book by Thomas Mario and a brand new copy of The Architecture of the Shot by Paul Knorr, with illustrations by Melissa Wood.

The Playboy book was first published in 1955; my copy was printed in 1971. The architecture book, on the other hand, was hot off the presses in 2015. Both books about booze...but they couldn't be more different. I love them both.

Though at first glance the shot book seems like it could be gimmicky, really, it's not. The recipes are precise and descriptions are genuinely interesting. The book includes about 70 different shots, both classics and drinks that are new to me. It's a good mix. Plus, the graphics...I love them.

Seventy sounds like a lot of shots, until you open a book like the Playboy tome, which is truly encyclopedic, with some pretty fab pictures of '70s parties and all manner of cocktail information and advice, from glassware to etiquette.

"But while a host should be active and should generously offer his punches, his pitchers or trays of cocktails, he should remember at the height of his wassailing that he's a host and not a hustler," Mario writes in the first chapter, titled "The Code of Conviviality." In addition to Mario's extremely strong, non-holiday season use of the verb "to wassail," he offers some good advice here. And there's a lot more where that came from.

But also...there are drinks. Dozens and dozens and dozens of drinks, from straightforward martinis to so many that require egg whites, I couldn't even count them all. If this book is any indication, mid-century entertainers really got their arm workouts in, what with all the cocktail shaking.

Despite their different angles - one uber-precise and succinct, one lengthy, comprehensive and swinging - both books are pretty incredible. And both promise hours and hours of good times...followed by a hangover or two.

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