Summer is all about relaxing at the beach, enjoying fantastically named potent tropical cocktails, staying up far too late and sleeping in. Sadly, after this long Labor Day weekend the season is unofficially over and school is back in session.
You don’t, however, need to worry about remembering your gym-locker combo or passing organic chemistry this time around. Your studies will center on the subject of spirits and cocktails. (For once, you might actually do your homework!)
Here is an annotated reading list for your first semester, complete with suggestions on drinks to enjoy as you hit the books.
FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Basic Bartending Skills
Embarrassed to mix drinks for your friends and family? Time to brush up on your bartending skills and who better to teach you than Dale DeGroff, the father of the rebirth of the cocktail? His books, The Craft of the Cocktail and The Essential Cocktail, contain a wealth of knowledge that he has gleaned over the course of his legendary career. Expect practical tips, plus history and dozens and dozens of DeGroff’s delicious recipes for all the classics. There is a reason why his books appear in many a bartender’s personal libraries. Even if you are fairly competent behind the stick and know, say, your hawthorne strainer from your julep strainer, give these books a read for a refresher course. I always learn something new from DeGroff.
What to Drink:
Contributed by Dale DeGroff
2 oz Jim Beam Rye or Maker’s Mark Bourbon
.5 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
.75 oz Dolin Sweet Vermouth
Dash Dale DeGroff’s Bitters
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a cocktail glass.
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Spirits 101
Daily Beast contributor Lew Bryson’s excellent Tasting Whiskey: An Insider's Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World's Finest Spirits is the perfect guide. While there is no substitute for actually drinking with Bryson (or for the joy that comes from triggering his booming laugh), reading his book is a close second. He concisely answers your basic and not-so-basic questions about the world of whiskey, from America to Scotland to Taiwan.
For even more cocktail party conversation fodder, try Reid Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey. (He has also written a couple fine articles for The Daily Beast.) Mitenbuler was able to find a range of fascinating tales about whiskey pioneers and innovators, including the rivalry between Schenley head Lewis Rosenstiel and Seagram head Samuel Bronfman.
What to Drink:
Half a Lime
2 oz Blended Scotch
Ginger beer or ginger ale
Glass: Tom Collins
Squeeze the lime into a Tom Collins glass. Add the whisky, fill with ice and top with ginger beer or ginger ale. Stir.
THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Cocktail History
To take your cocktail expertise to the next level you need to dig into the history of classic drinks and bartenders. There is no better place to start than Imbibe! and Punch, both by The Daily Beast’s senior drinks columnist David Wondrich. The former will give you a lesson on the first celebrity bartender, Jerry Thomas; the latter is a study on the concoction that tipplers from the late 1660s through the 1800s drank the most.
For a more modern take on drinking culture, check out the recently published Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, by Martin and Rebecca Cate, which is an entertaining deep dive into a style of cocktails that has traditionally not received much respect.
While summer is out of here very soon, you can still get a taste of sunshine with one of these tropical drinks.
What to Drink:
Agricole Guava Cooler
Created by Martin Cate
2 oz Bundaberg Guava Soda
.75 oz Fresh lime juice
.75 oz Licor 43
2 oz Rhum agricole blanc (e.g. Rhum J.M Blanc or Neisson Blanc)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: Mint sprig, cinnamon stick and lime wheel
Glass: Collins or highball
Add the guava soda to a Collins or highball glass and set aside. Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into the prepared glass. Gently add cracked or cubed ice to fill the glass. Garnish with a mint sprig, cinnamon stick and lime wheel.