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Weekly Alibi Cocktail Culture

By Devin D. O'Leary

AUGUST 10, 1998: 

Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century

by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead (Viking, cloth, 242 pages, $19.95)

I must admit, I was a bit wary when I first picked up this little tome. First of all, it's penned by a couple techno-hipsters from Wired magazine. Second of all, it claims to be the drink bible "for the 21st century." As far as I'm concerned, the American art of tippling reached its pinnacle in 1965. There have been no significant advances in the drinking world since then--and don't start barking about raspberry-flavored vodka or tequila-flavored beer or Zima, for God's sake, because those things are little more than the Devil's work. To me, "21st century" drinks sound like a bunch of frat boy recipes. No real drinker worth his (margarita) salt would be caught dead sucking down a Sex on the Beach, a Slippery Nipple, a Desert Fart or any other crudely monikered concoction in a plastic cup.

Upon cracking the spine, however, I was relieved to find that Cocktail is a reverent, erudite toast to the classics of cocktail culture consumption. After a well-organized apéritif of the basics (techniques of drinkmaking, glassware, garnishes, distillation processes, stocking the home bar), Cocktail taps the big keg, unleashing recipes for several dozen of the most civilized cocktail standards--from the Americano to the Zombie. Neither the intro ("Mixing Advice From the Alchemist") nor the main section ("The Drink Classics Worth Imbibing First") are unusual in their content--similar info can be found in just about any decent beverage book. What makes this inebriated opus so swankadelic are the colorful garnishes that authors Harrington and Moorhead toss into the mix. Another couple hundred alchemical formulas follow the main section, but the authors have chosen to lavish much attention on their "Drinks Worth Imbibing" section. The design is a stunner. Each drink recipe is sidecarred by an atmospheric photograph and a graphic scale indicating taste complexity and mixing difficulty. Each cocktail comes with its own history/reminiscence running down the more salient points of each fantastic fluid's origin, creator or literary background. Although several astute Alibi readers have clued me in on the truth behind the mysterious Monkey Gland cocktail, this book spills all the unappetizing details. Nothing like a little light reading to accompany your drink of choice.

Beachbum Berry's Grog Log

by Jeff Berry and Annene Kaye (SLG Publishing, spiral-bound, 94 pages, $9.95)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, this small press offering (from comic book giant Slave Labor Graphics) looks at very first glance like a working man's drink journal. Spiral-bound to lay flat and easy on your bartop, this tiki-tinged tome just screams to be used! Berry and Kaye have chosen to dedicate all their knowledge and effort to the long-lost art of tropical mixology (God bless their rummy hearts). Starting off with a brief but informative history of tropical drinks, the Grog Log zips through a hundred or so exotic Polynesian poisons--from the Ancient Mariner to (what else) the Zombie. The book is soaked, cover-to-cover, in groovy period clip art, conjuring up late-'50s images of funky Hawaiian restaurants and scowling tiki mugs. An amusing symbolic system allows you to instantly assess the strength, construction method and preferred serving vessel (from Easter Island head mug to pineapple shell) for each and every drink. A big tip of the rum bottle goes out to Beachbum Berry for his exhaustive research--the crazy drunk actually dug up ancient cocktail books and interviewed arthritic bartenders from Don the Beachcomber's and Trader Vic's to get these recipes perfect, down to the last swizzle stick. Aloha!

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