An Engineer’s Guide to Cocktails


An Engineer friend of mine, Kevin Liu, has written a book.

It is called “Craft Cocktails at Home“, but it should really be called, “An Engineer’s Guide to Cocktails”.

Lest you forget, a couple of Engineers made a very funny video a while back about the care and feeding of Felis silvestris catus for the literal minded. They called it, “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats”. I include it here, on the off chance that you have not laughed out loud recently.

From my initial skimming of the book, like the video, Kevin also manages to balance the geeky, the amusing, and the ridiculous in his new guide to Cocktails.

Also! The Kindle eBook version will be available for free! (Free, as in Beer!) from 28 Feb 2013 through 02 Mar 2013 on Amazon:

Craft Cocktails at Home on Amazon

Check it, and you will soon be using phrases like, “Orthonasal Olfaction,” in everyday conversation, not to mention enjoying perfectly clear ice in every cocktail!

I include a brief sample of the writing style, here, for your enjoyment.

Why Some People Hate the Taste of Alcohol and What You Can Do About It

I have a friend named Wes who cannot stand the taste of alcohol. At all. And I know it’s not his fault. He’s always a good sport, tasting every single drink I’ve made for him. Each time, he smiles, as if confident this time, this drink, he’ll find something he’ll genuinely enjoy and know exactly what to order at bars forever. For me, it’s like watching a car wreck in slow motion. I carefully study his face, looking for a sign, the slightest hint of a smile that indicates he’s pleased, satisfied, or at least indifferent. But, every time it ends the same. Wes’s face tightens with disgust, his eyes squint, and his tongue hangs limp from his defeated mouth. Wes drinks Bud Lime and Corona. I drink the leftovers of Wes’s cocktails. Once in a while, I’ll mix up something exceptionally light and he’ll happily accept a glass in the privacy of the home bar, knowing he’ll never be able to bring himself to ask for an Amaretto Sour or a Dark and Stormy (hold the stormy) in public. Poor Wes.

So, go buy Kevin’s book. Or download it for free on Amazon and buy Kevin a drink the next time you see him, for all the work he has done in the service of cocktails, and the advancement of mankind.

Same Drink, Different Name…

Same Drink, Different Name.  Different Drink, Same Name.

DJ Hawaiian Shirt has recently had a bit of a bug up his butt about how similar many of these Savoy Cocktails are, commenting,  “I’m peeved by the liberal naming of new cocktails when they’re almost 100% the same.”

I can’t say I’m that “peeved” exactly, having developed a certain fondness for drinks composed of 2/3 Gin, 1/3 Dry Vermouth.  But to explain the factors as I see them.

First, some have called “The Savoy Cocktail Book” the first example of cocktail “shovelware”.

That is to say, a bunch of different books compiled into a single book, with little or no editorial input.  Personally, I always imagine Harry Craddock’s involvement in the thing as walking into an office with a pile of his pre-prohibition cocktail books and maybe the Savoy “Black Book” of recipes.  Telling them to have at it, and then going back to running the bar without ever really peeking back in at the result.  How else to explain all the typos and misprints?

We know his sources included Robert Vermeire, Harry McElhone, Judge Jr., and Hugo Ensslin.  Undoubtedly there are others, the South African book with all the Caperitif recipes for example.  Or the home cocktail and entertaining manual with all the recipes for multiple guests.

So that’s one reason, there are a few different recipes with the same name, or different recipes with the same name.  There are, after all, only so many ingredients in the classic cocktail canon.

A recent experience at Heaven’s Dog, highlighted another possible explanation.

A customer asked me for a drink that Lane Ford, (now of Delarosa,) had been making for them.

I sent Lane a text, asking him for the recipe for his, “Derby Fizz”.

He texted back with the recipe adding, “It’s really just EA’s Whiskey Fizz, from our bar book.”

On one hand, you could get peeved.  On the other hand, he’d thought up a memorable new name for a tasty drink that had been languishing under an uninspired moniker.  Memorable enough, that customers requested that drink under its new name.  Kind of genius, really.

Drinks don’t get made for lots of reasons pretty independent of their ultimate tastiness.  If they are too complicated, techniques too difficult, or the ingredients too obscure.  Or if the names don’t inspire customers or bartenders.

Nothing wrong with thinking up a better name for the same cocktail.

Mud Puddle Bonanza!

Mud Puddle Bonanza!

Woo! My order from Cocktail Kingdom arrived today!

Reprints of Vermeire, Ensslin, Straub, Maier, Kappelar, and home boy Boothby!

Japanese tins, some beautiful heavy mixing glasses, and even a bonus spoon!

Thanks Greg Boehm and Company, you are truly doing amazing things for the cocktail community.

PS. Ahem, the Aviation recipe in Hugo Ensslin’s book calls for Creme de Violette, not Creme Yvette!


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.

Just a Bunch of Drinks

Over the years cocktails with a lot of drinks have been popular. Sort of compendiums of the state of the cocktail art, as it were. The first of these may have been “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” Other big ones include the various Mr. Boston Guides, Cocktail Bill Boothby’s “World Drinks and How to Mix Them,” and one of the most influential modern drink bibles, “Jones’ Complete Bar Guide.”

They tend to be long on recipes, but short on instructions, details, or information.

In his annually published DiffordsGuides to Cocktails, Simon Difford has been a bit different. He usually has a good section on methods, pictures for each cocktail, origin details for many cocktails, and little articles about featured cocktails. He also has an exceptional index of ingredients and recipes which include them. Not to mention a short list of some of the world’s best bars.

Now up to DiffordsGuide # 7, in many bars these annually released books have become the go to guides for young bartenders, especially those of the European persuasion.

In number of recipes, DiffordsGuide #7 does not let us down. Including over 2250 drink recipes, you’re not going to run dry any time soon.

One of the nicest things about Difford’s Guides is that they not only include drinks from American bartenders, but also from Europe and the world. It includes relatively recent cocktails from San Franciscans Jacques Bezuidenhout and Dominic Venegas, along with many of the leading lights of modern Europe’s bar scene.

I find it interesting that, as in all Mr. Difford’s books, there are rather a lot of very sweet sounding cocktails and many layered shots, (or “Shotails” as Mr. Difford likes to call them.)  I’m not sure if this is a difference between West Coast and European taste, or just Mr. Difford’s preference.

Still there are enough interesting old and new classics in Difford’s Guide #7 to keep any person entertained for, well, the rest of their life.  Certainly no cocktail enthusiast would complain if they found one under their Christmas, (or Valentine’s Day,) tree.

Full disclosure: When I read on the Spirits Review Blog that a new Difford’s Guide had been released, I sent a note to Christopher Carlsson asking how he had got his sweaty little hands on a copy. He suggested I contact them. I did, and they were kind enough to send a copy for review.