With numerous cocktail books being published by East Coast bars, it is refreshing to read an important Northwest take, “The Canon Cocktail Book: Recipes from the Award-Winning Bar” (Jamie Boudreau and James O. Fraioli/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28). Its author, Boudreau, is the veteran bartender and proprietor of Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium. Among its many accolades, this famed Seattle drinkery earned two Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Spirited Awards® (“World’s Best Spirits Selection” and “World’s Best Drinks Selection”) and ranked #6 at World’s 50 Best Bars. Sporting a mere seven tables seating 32 guests, Canon has an outsized influence on the drinks world, both for its cocktail excellence, as well as boasting the largest spirits selection (3,500 bottles) in the Americas.
“This book explains how Canon came to be, with insights as to how we create drinks and run the business,” says Boudreau. “There are also tips for the person that dreams of possibly opening their own bar one day. As someone who has decided not to bring children into the world, I needed to leave something behind to prove that I was here at one point in time.”
Bar business tips from an insider
Boudreau first sets the stage by knowingly expounding on what it takes to open a bar, cautioning, “This industry is not for the faint of heart.” From choosing (and trademarking) a name and creating a unique bar concept to finding suitable partners or investors and negotiating a lease, Boudreau skillfully steers readers on the pitfalls to avoid. He is also candid about bar ownership’s unglamorous aspects, like busing tables and fixing plumbing, as well as the grind of being on call at all hours, writing, “…you get no days off, few holidays and no real vacations.” The book also details the bar tools used at Canon, basic bartending techniques and glassware.
Recipes of classic cocktails and riffs thereupon
As for the book’s 150 recipes from Boudreau and the Canon bar team, they spotlight classics and riffs on them, all lavishly photographed. These include the Daiquiri, Sidecar, Corpse Reviver No. 1 and No. 2, as well as the signature Canon Cocktail, The Duboudreau Cocktail and the over-the-top Campfire in Georgia, served under a smoke-filled cloche. “We stick to one of our philosophies by never tying ourselves to exact recipes when it comes to the classics,” writes Boudreau. He explains that ingredients, techniques and tastes have changed since back in the day and recipes require tweaking. Helpful recipes for infusions, tinctures and syrups are also included.
Boudreau is similarly not shy about expressing his own libational point of view, recommending that the French 75 be served in a Collins glass over ice, rather than in a Champagne flute. In addition, he eschews serving the Old Fashioned over ice, citing the Sazerac for historical precedent. Boudreau includes often humorous backstories to drinks like The Hooker, which he named after singer John Lee Hooker, but guests seem to order it thanks to its alternative slang meaning.
The shrouded roulette cocktail, un-shrouded!
In addition, Boudreau un-shrouds the mysterious Shrouded Roulette cocktail, for which his bar staff asks the guest for their base spirit of choice and proceeds to create a cocktail. The catch is there can be no duplicates during a shift. Happily, Boudreau espouses two simple theories to expedite on-the-fly libations creation.
The first is the Mr. Potato Head theory that posits that key ingredients, like base spirits, can often be swapped in a proven recipe with good results. He combines this with his second theory, the Golden Ratio, an idealized potation specifying 1.5 oz of any base spirit, .75 oz of any vermouth-like ingredient, .25 oz of any liqueur and a dash or two of bitters (optional). He promises that the resulting concoction will work nine times out of 10, an excellent batting average. While not as concise as say, E=mc2, any bartender worth their bitters would do well to memorize Boudreau’s potent universal formula and take it through its liquid paces.
The takeaway for readers
“Hopefully, people will realize what it takes to operate a world-class bar, while being able to make world-class cocktails in their own home,” says Boudreau.
For those seeking to up their cocktail game or ever toyed with the thought of opening their own bar, “The Canon Cocktail Book” will prove a worthy and indispensable read.