There are not many cocktail books I heartily recommend for people beginning to tiptoe into the cocktail waters. The reality is most books are written by bartenders for industry professionals. They may not intend this, but I believe they lose sight of what is approachable vs. burdensome to do at home.
Michael Ruhlman’s new book is one of those that hits the mark for the home bartender. Born out of a pandemic-driven Friday afternoon happy hour, The Book of Cocktail Ratios: The Surprising Simplicity of Classic Cocktails will help you see how drinks are interrelated and are not finicky about ingredients. Many books emerge from temples of mixology, and while they are great places to visit, what makes them exceptional is how particular they are. And yet, many good enough cocktails can be made without having to regularly run to the liquor store because this recipe calls for Bulldog Gin, while this one calls for Hayman's.
Give Michael’s book a try, or listen to our fun podcast conversation
Between chatting with Michael and reading the book, there are a handful of things I learned or were confirmed I want to share.
1) One of the books that gave me the courage to create Decoding Cocktails was Death & Company’s Cocktail Codex. The Codex is one of those books I do not recommend for the average home bartender, but it makes a case for just six foundational cocktails anchoring the whole field. This helped me think about how I could radically simplify cocktailing for people. D&C loops the #Martini and Manhattan together. I have found this helpful as they are both spirit-forward cocktails softened by a #vermouth. Michael separates them because despite calling on similar types of ingredients, they have nothing in common from a flavor perspective, and through his lens, this is all that likely matters to a home bartender.
2) Despite feeling like I will be educating people that vermouth is a wine-based product with a shelf life til my final breath, Michael said that after he batched Negronis for his wife's birthday, they held up for 4 months in the refrigerator. With a chef's palate, I trust him on this. So if you love a #Negroni but don't make them on the regular because of the effort, batch them and be done with it.
3) I have been asked about bar tools countless times. What do I recommend? I’ve long believed that a good jigger is the most important tool for your bar. For the book, Michael chatted with the quirky, reclusive, savant bartender Phil Ward, who agreed. I use an Oxo angled jigger, and Phil uses a squat Leopold jigger, but most importantly, the only thing that matters about a jigger is that you feel comfortable using it. The difference between a good cocktail and a great one can be as little as a 1/8 oz.
4) Michael highlights why a dash of #maraschinoliqueur or #Absinthe can radically alter a drink. In the book, he talks about the difference between a Hemingway Daiquiri and #JimMeehan’s The Sun Also Rises as being a dash of absinthe. In Michael’s experiment, he found that a White Lady (the drink, not the person you are thinking of) is greatly enhanced by a teaspoon of maraschino liqueur. Beyond base spirits, maraschino and absinthe are part of the small handful of more obscure Michael recommends you have on your bar at home.
5) Homemade #eggnog always blows people away. They expect flat and benign flavors from the product in their supermarket but encounter something immeasurably better. Research at Rockefeller University revealed that fortified homemade egg nog can be aged for a year or more. You can bet I will try this next year.
Thanks for reading and give our fun conversation a listen.