In order to add some variety to my usual load of summer reading (a stack of textbooks), I took advantage of our last trip to the Boston Shaker to pick up a book on cocktails. While John vacillated on the Jerry Thomas tome, I jumped on one of the new reprints of David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drink. Expectations were high: rarely have months passed without hearing fawning praise or stories of old copies reselling for outrageous prices.
Written not long after the appeal of Prohibition, Embury's text oozes of a definite quaintness, complete with a veiled condescension towards women and authoritative pseudo-science. Not to mention a total disdain for tequila. Pushing on, however, it's easy to see why it was so treasured by the early cocktail revolutionaries. Embury held strong opinions towards cocktails and how they should be made, demanding fresh ingredients and careful thought towards construction instead of blind devotion to recipes.
For someone already indoctrinated into the cocktail movement, however, much of Embury's impassioned arguments are redundant; those likely to pick up a copy of the book are already likely to share his philosophy. The real value of the text, then, becomes something for which Embury is not shy in expressing his hatred: a recipe book. While few of the recipes are immediately phenomenal, they serve as wonderfully fertile grounds for experimentation and play. Armed with calibrated ingredient ratios, an enthusiastic reader can readily attack the recipes and quickly develop an array of diverse, well balanced drinks.
Contrary to what some might claim, The Fine Art of Mixing Drink won't change your life, but it does makes great summer reading.