7. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks: David A. Embury

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7. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks: David A. Embury

Post  Patguy on Mon Aug 23, 2010 4:36 pm

I’ve decided to teach myself how to make classic cocktails, so I started with this reprint of the well-known idiosyncratic cocktail classic. A dedicated amateur such as I can only aspire to be, Embury never worked as a bartender, or with cocktails in any professional capacity, but that doesn’t stop him from sharing his opinions. The recipes in here are almost an afterthought; the real value lies in Embury’s approach to creating and classifying cocktails.

He identifies two broad categories (aromatic and sour) and six different basic types of cocktails: the Manhattan, the martini, the old fashioned, the sidecar, the daiquiri and the Jack Rose. He discusses the elements of a cocktail: the base, the modifying agent, and an optional third special flavoring ingredient. He discusses the correct proportions—famously: 8 parts base, 2 parts sour, 1 part sweet for sour-type cocktails, which is not nearly sweet enough for modern tastes. He demonstrates how one cocktail can be transformed into a different one by simply varying one or more of the three elements: a Jack Rose, for example, has the same structure as every other sour—change the base (applejack for rum), the sour (lemon juice for lime juice) and the sweet (grenadine for simple syrup, orgeat or falernum), and you have a daiquiri.

There’s a lot to take issue with in Embury’s book, the sour ratio most notably. But also much of what he says is out of date: the vodka chapter was added in later editions, for example, and he’s clearly not interested in what would later become the most popular spirit in America; he also calls tequila undrinkable, which maybe it was in 1948. He’s also dismissive of whole categories of drinks, mostly the heavy ones, with too much sugar, egg or cream, but also drinks with incompatible elements such as clashing sours or aromatics, or showoffy drinks like the zombie (sorry Doug!). You also have to wonder how he came up with six cocktail categories when the Jack Rose, the daiquiri and the sidecar are all just sours—surely we could have had just four?

(Also, and this is nitpicky, I know: the book was clearly reprinted from an OCR of an earlier edition, and is just lousy with typos. Mud Puddle Books did a very sloppy job proofreading this.)

However, I’ve learned more from this book than any other cocktail book. He includes a chapter discussing the history and character of each type of base spirit. He encourages experimentation, and even his famous sour ratio is only a suggestion; his “Roll Your Own” chapter explicitly outlines techniques for creating new drinks. He writes in a relaxed, conversational style and is very funny. I love this book!

Patguy
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