First, I want to apologize to David Wondrich for not writing up his new book “Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar” before Christmas, depriving him of whatever paltry sales a blog post here will generate. Sorry David.
In any case, the book had been covered so well by such stellar writers as Paul Clarke over at the Cocktail Chronicles, (“IMBIBE! (no, the other one)”,) and Jeff Berry over at Beachbum Berry’s Grog Blog, (“AN EDUCATED THIRST: PROFESSOR JERRY THOMAS, REMIXED”,) that I figured anyone with even a passing interest cocktails would have purchased it before Christmas. Heck, they should have pre-ordered the thing!
Plus, I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for many of my friends and family, as they were getting a copy for Christmas whether they wanted one or not.
Recently, though, it has come to my attention that some of my acquaintances (<cough>Rick<cough>) have not yet purchased a copy for themselves.
Now, I know perhaps you are thinking, “Why do I need a book about 19th Century cocktails and bar culture? I can make an Old-Fashioned as well as the next man. There’s nothing else to it, is there?”
Indeed, when I heard that Mr. Wondrich was working on this book, I wondered how he would make such things interesting to those of us already familiar with the subject matter.
The beautiful thing about Mr. Wondrich’s writing is that it is a joy to read. Indeed, I suspect if he applied himself to the subject of paint drying, he could, somehow, bring it to life.
He not only brings the culture of the 19th Century Saloon to vivid life, he provides seemingly endless amusing anecdotes about the cocktails themselves and the characters that created them. Boothby, Schmidt, and especially Thomas all get some time in the sun here.
Indeed, if I have any criticism of the book, it is that it spends too much time on cocktails, and not enough on the colorful characters and histories of the 19th Century. After reading the wonderful first chapter on the the life of Jerry Thomas, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to get down to the business of cocktails, punches, and fancy drinks.
Sigh, I guess, ultimately, it is a cocktail recipe book, after all.
But, lest I also worry about that, Mr. Wondrich’s research and writing about those recipes is thoroughly fascinating and well worth going through. Not to mention, every recipe I have made so far has been outstanding. They may take a bit more work than modern cocktails, but the results are well worth the effort and the instructions impeccable.
Crack open your stingy wallet, mix yourself a drink, enjoy Mr. Wondrich’s prose, and smile.
Full disclosure: After I had pre-ordered a copy of “Imbibe!” the publisher sent me a copy. I didn’t cancel my pre-order, instead giving it to a friend. So, I figure we’re about even.