Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, 75th Anniversary Edition

Here’s a change of pace for me. Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, 75th Anniversary Edition is a recipe book for hundreds of cocktails. The book is a fixture with its red covers, a bit narrower and taller than a mass market paperback, the perfect size to slip in next to the cash register or under the bar.

The introduction credits Leo Cotton, a sales rep for Mr. Boston Liquor Company, with compiling and editing the very first edition. Drinks have been added over the years, of course, many by members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, which I didn’t even know existed until I started flipping through the book.

The drinks are categorized by the primary spirit, in alphabetical order, starting with Brandy and ending with Wine and Beer. There is a short Bar Basics section, a resource section (I was pleased to see Sonoma Syrups listed as a simple syrup source) a glossary and an index. The book has a number of color plates of cocktails that look elegant, yummy, or, like the Pickleback, downright weird.

I’m developing an interest in drink-mixing even if I don’t drink that many of them, because it’s kind of cool, and it seems related to magic. It does, doesn’t it? It’s all about proportions, sequence, timing and alchemy. There’s a weird thing that happens when you’re shaking a drink with ice and somehow the feel of the shaker changes – and it’s not just it’s frosted. No, the texture of the stuff inside seems to have changed. Why does fresh lemon juice give such a different taste experience than lemonade? What is the difference between a stirred drink and a shaken drink? Plus, the history of distilled spirits is interesting. Plus, sidecars? Yummy.

I have browsed The Official Bartender’s Guide heavily and overall, it’s pretty impressive. The color plates do beautiful justice to the drinks. The categories let a novice begin to create a model, from the logic of the “original” cocktails to all the variations that spring from it. The book’s organization would make it easier for a newbie to start memorizing the “150 or so classic and popular drinks that are 90 percent of a bartender’s regular repertoire.”

Those “classic and popular” are what you would expect. Many drinks are descended from the old-fashioned, the Manhattan, the martini, the daiquiri or the margarita. Relative newcomers to the US include the mojito. Shot drinks, labeled “shooters” in The Official Bartender’s Guide, have become quite elaborate.

I have two problems with this book. One is trivial and more is more serious.
The trivial first; the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide offers nearly a dozen martini variations, including a rum martini (page 145). When I flipped to Vodka Martini, however, I found this “recipe:”

“If you insist on making your martini with vodka, see the gin version on page 98 and substitute the former for the latter.”

They’re gin purists. I get it. Still, this is blatant prejudice, and somewhat hypocritical since they go one to list at least six more vodka drinks with “martini” in the title. Really, people, it’s the 21st century. Move on.

The second problem is more serious, and that’s the index. It contains at least three errors (drinks not listed on the page that was given). Several of the drinks shown in the color plates, like the Ingrid Bergman and the Devil’s Tail weren’t in the index at all that I could see. With the Bergman, I could look at the photo and guess that beer was a primary ingredient, and I found it in the Wine and Beer category. The Devil’s Tail was harder until I figured out that it was a blender drink. The book is a reference tool; indices are important to reference tools and this is too high a proportion of error.

Still, there is interesting stuff here. Did you know that in the US, England and Ireland, the grain liquor aged in wood is spelled “whiskey” and in Scotland and Canada it’s “whisky?”  Did you know that the story behind the “sidecar” is that it was invented for an American army officer in Paris, who arrived at his favorite bar in a sidecar? Have you ever had a crusta? Did you know that ginger ale is probably an ingredient in any drink with “buck” in the name? Pretty cool stuff.

It makes me want to go mix a drink.

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2 Responses to Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, 75th Anniversary Edition

  1. Donna Banta says:

    This is cool indeed! My daughter says the trick to mixing a perfect martini is shaking until it’s so cold you feel like your hands are frozen to the shaker. I imagine Leo Cotton has a smoother way of describing it.

  2. Marion says:

    I met a bartender last summer who used almost exactly the same description, Donna.

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