Left Coast Review Responses

Some responses to my writeup of the Left Coast Libations book:

JimmyP:

I’m so embarrassed. I used St. Germain in one of my cocktails. I only use it in one cocktail, and that’s the one in the book. Michael, can you remove the bohemian from the second edition and I’ll get to work on something that uses ketchup?

I was kind of torn about using St. Germain as an example, my initial thought was just to say something like, “excluding any liqueurs or spirits I know have been heavily promoted by marketing and/or spirits companies,” but that was just too unwieldy. So I picked St. Germain as my whipping boy.

JimmyP:

“The resulting liqueur has the beautiful clear scent of elderflower without some of the off flavors or, well, syrup-i-ness of the D’Arbo Elderflower Syrup. I don’t think St. Germain will be a completely one to one substitute in cocktails calling for the syrup; but, it is a great product all on its own. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with it in cocktails.”

Who do you think it was?

a. me
b. you
c. simon difford
d. no one ever said this.

Maybe I don’t get to go to enough bars and see what’s being abused?

I reserve the right to change my mind. I wrote that in March of 2007 on eGullet. I can barely keep track of the Savoy drinks I posted last week, let alone some comment I made as moderator of the Spirits and Cocktail Forum on eGullet three years ago. Besides, I still have a nearly full bottle of St. Germain that I purchased that year. I’m hoping it ages well, but it has floaties.

Frederic Yarm:

Visiting the bars and bartenders is a bit of a challenge for us on the right coast. If I can squeeze out a dozen recipes, it will far surpass most book purchases (I think we’re up to 6 recipes although one was a disappointment).

Considering that I have spent $30+ on a Mud Puddle book to discover that there are 3 new recipes and a lot of the same (or slight variations) as I already have, so far the ratio is not that bad in comparison.

We don’t throw aside the St. Germain drinks, but I do agree about the special syrups and infusions. And the seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Although I’ll have a better chance getting those then I will from my Japanese or Peruvian cocktail books…

“The Right Coast”, guess it depends on your perspective!

Collecting classic cocktail books is indeed a thankless task. Just be thankful you’re spending $30 dollars for books from Mud Puddle, and not $300+ on eBay.

Drinksnob:

Very well put.

Now, if only I the bars in my town had the balls to experiment, so I could actually taste some of these things at least once.

filip:

Erik, I think from your standpoint your review is fair. But I would argue the book is not made for you, but for people who are looking to go past that “I can make a better drink than 99% of bartenders” but I’m no pro status. It fills a nice void between the amateurs and the professionals, it nestles itself into a niche that has not really been explored in print.

IMO it’s for people who can make great classic cocktails and adapt recipes but are looking for inspiration to push their craft further. I would think the book is achieving it’s goals if it pushes someone to make an obscure homemade ingredient. Even if the drink from the book disappoints, at least they have a new ingredient to play around with.

Michael Lazar:

Erik. Thanks for the review and general thoughts on current (or not so current) trends in cocktails. I’m continuing to mull on ‘em.

I was struck however by one thing with which I’d take actual issue: calling the book cocktail p0rn. First off, so long as you have access to decent liquor stores and produce markets, I count 54 cocktails (roughly half the recipes) you could make tonight—if you include the ones that call for St. Germain and if you don’t count things like simple syrup or basil as a special/exotic ingredient. Second, we did a lot of work proofing and scaling the recipes for the special ingredients so that folks who undertake them would be as guaranteed of success as possible. Where it was deemed helpful we included details what sorts of equipment you’d need, where to source certain ingredients, substitutions, etc. There’s even a lengthy discussion on frothing egg whites (and things that can go wrong) trying and ice (why not to get too wrapped around the axle about it).

I would also point out that some of the cocktails in the book have incredible track records in the real world: Laughing Buddha, Chartreuse Swizzle, The Revolver (#2 most popular cocktail at B&B), Richmond Gimlet, Southern Exposure, and Carter Beats the Devil, to name just a few. And a few others are already showing their legs e.g. the Saffron Sandalwood Sour and Ueno San. And most of these, once again, are pretty simple to execute.

Net/net: I’d say the book is less like p0rn and more like a really good sex instruction manual with hot models. ;->

Cheers!

Michael

To be frank, I do feel a bit bad that I got carried away with my little rant, and didn’t really highlight the parts of the book that I DO really like.

First, the pictures are fantastic. As someone who takes a lot of pictures of cocktails, it’s hard to understate how great a job I think Jenn Farrington did taking the pictures in this book.

The attention to detail, is another thing which really I really appreciate. Instead of simply asking the drink makers for pictures and recipes, I know that they went through every cocktail in the book and made the cocktails at least once, sometimes several times. It is great that they include substitutions where appropriate and very detailed instructions for all the cocktails and pantry work.

Another aspect of the attention to detail, is the fact that they give credit to the creator of every drink in the book. Very few cocktail books take both the drink makers and cocktails serious enough to give credit where it is due. That is very cool.

And as a corollary to that, a lot of these recipes are, in fact, working cocktail recipes from bars. They are not just cocktails that someone won a contest with and made once. There are many examples here of very popular cocktails, modern West Coast classics, if you will. It is a credit to the bars and to the bartenders that they would put themselves out there and share these in the detail that they have simply out of the generosity of their spirits and commitment to the craft.

All of these things are a breath of fresh air in the world of cocktail recipe books.

I was really torn about whether I should “review” the book at all, for all the reasons that I listed at the beginning of my write up.

There was no way I was going to do it, if I couldn’t think of anything real, meaningful, or provacative to say about it.

I just started with the idea of kind of tweaking Ted’s passive-aggressive tone in the “bios” and tossing it back at him as a sort of joke.

But some recent events in my life and another blogger’s write up of the cocktail program at a new restaurant, colored my review and definitely provided fodder for thought.

A lot of the questions which I put, are not just intended for other bartenders, but for myself as I approach the end of the Savoy Project and wonder about my future and what inspirations I will find.

One thought on “Left Coast Review Responses

  1. Erik

    Thanks for the follow up and for sharing more of your impressions of the book. Again, it’s provoking much thought and discussion.

    Last night Scott and I, who are in Seattle this weekend, visited with Jay Kuehner at Sambar. Jay’s got an impressive list of all original cocktails, plus what he keeps in his head, ready to make if you ask for something different. Many of his formulas involve four or more ingredients, including herbs, tinctures, syrups, bitters, etc. What comes across so clearly is how refined everything he makes tastes, how well balanced his cocktails are. Jay is obviously quite talented and blessed with an innate sensibility about what goes with what. However, I can’t imagine that he doesn’t, like most of us, also do a lot of experimenting and tinkering to get things ‘just so.’ I’d hazard a guess that what we see on his menu is just as well informed by didn’t work as by what did.

    My point here is that exploring the extremities of the map shows us (at the very least) what’s possible, though not necessarily desirable or sustainable. Having gone to the ragged edges, many of us will come back tempered by what we’ve found, ready to embrace a simpler lexicon of cocktails. Others may find unexpected inspiration at the margins and astound us with their mad skills and insights. Most of us are likely to play someplace in between. If nothing else, the cocktails in Left Coast Libations provides us with one snapshot of that process. Left Coast Libations 2 (and beyond) will show us more.

    Cheers!

    Michael

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