Sophisticated cocktail books can be indispensable tools for those who wish to master their craft. Sometimes, though, you just want to master your party host duties with a few foolproof, do-it-at-home recipes. Now, a new book promises to take the complication out of creating a home bar and guide you through a genre of cocktails that are almost impossible to mess up.
Published last month by Chronicle Books, “Shake. Stir. Sip.” is the work of Kara Newman, the spirits editor at Wine Enthusiast and author of “Cocktails for a Crowd.” The beautifully illustrated book features recipes for “More Than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts” and is perfect for those who may ask: Why fuss around with complex measurements when you can just shake/stir and sip?
We chatted cocktails, at-home bartending and the book’s very strenuous research process with Newman:
Why a book about equal parts cocktails?
The short answer is that they are straightforward to make and to not screw up, and because I was introduced to them by bartenders who seemed to use them for all manner of cocktails. They use them for batching larger drinks; they use them for mixing very quickly, and they use them because they represent a number of cocktail families that are really popular right now, like the Negroni and the Last Word.
You were introduced to equal parts cocktails by bartenders, but is the book intended more for at-home bartenders?
It is. I think that’s the audience for most cocktail books, especially one that’s intended to be so streamlined a format. I certainly had home bartenders in mind, but I think there are applications for bartenders, too. I’m hoping that there are going to be some drinks in there that even experienced bartenders aren’t completely familiar with. There are certainly a number of drinks in the book that were introduced to me by bartenders that were completely new to me but seemed so simple and brilliant. The Paper Plane was a new one; that’s Sam Ross’s drink. It’s a Last Word riff and I think it’s really one of the most simple but beautiful cocktails out there and I can’t believe I didn’t know it before I started researching this book. I am hoping there will be revelations for more experienced pros too.
How did you go about doing the research?
It was really just a lot of reaching out to bartenders I already knew. The usual, very strenuous, activity of going out to bars and trying drinks! And also a lot of making drinks at home and testing them to make sure they worked, because … I really feel strongly that if you are going to do a cocktail book, the drinks have to work. There were drinks that I threw out because, even though they are classics, I just didn’t think they were very good drinks. Like the Blood and Sand, which is a classic but to me doesn’t work as an equal parts drink, it might work in other formats. Or the Satan’s Whiskers is another one I tried but didn’t feel worked (as an equal parts drink) but worked in a revised format; so there’s a revised Satan’s Whiskers in the book and I do acknowledge the roots of the drink. So (the drinks that didn’t totally work) provided inspiration in some cases.
You developed some of the cocktails yourself?
Some of them. A good deal of the drinks in the book are classics. A large portion are contributed by bartenders and are original to them, and there are a handful that I developed myself just to fill in gaps. One of the big challenges in doing a book about equal parts cocktails is that there are so many drinks that are of the stirred, boozy variety, like the Negroni, but there aren’t really a whole lot that feature fruit juices or are appropriate for spring and maybe have lighter flavors. So I had to develop some drinks to fill in the gaps and make it a little more well-rounded.
What was your criteria for choosing the cocktails?
I was looking for a balance, for drinks that represented a broad variety of spirits, so that they are not all Negronis, or all Camparis or gin. Different styles: So, again, not just the bitter and boozy, but also some that are lighter in flavor and lighter in alcohol content; I was happy to put drinks like the Bamboo, the Adonis and the 50/50 Martini that had a bit of a lighter hand on the alcohol content. Also, I was looking to represent bartenders from as many areas of the country as I could, so it wasn’t all New York-centric.