Oof. I’ve found that, when annoyed, saying (or, you know, writing) only those things which are verifiable facts until you (me) have built up a cogent argument leaves you (still me!) less open to committing fallacies or errors of passion. So let me start this way. Artisanal Cocktails is a new-ish (my local library just got it, ok? I am not going to spend $25 of my drinking money on this thing) cocktail book by Scott Beattie, seeking to connect the burgeoning local food and craft cocktail movements. It has been reviewed by others in the cocktail-blogging world. It has 46 cocktail (or, rather, alcoholic beverage) recipes, as well as many recipes for sundries and ingredients. Of those recipes, 14 are untouched or slightly complicated versions of classic cocktails (down to a recipe for a Gin and Tonic – possibly the least useful full page printed in any cocktail book), and 17 rely on vodka as their primary spirit.
First, seriously, I want to say that there is one cocktail in this book that justifies its existence, but only because it helps me justify my purchase of a $60 bottle of Del Maguey Chichicapa: the Beachfire Margarita, which replaces 1/2 oz of the tequila with mezcal, and is majestically delicious; I don’t know if its just the power of suggestion, but the drink really does evoke a beautiful, desolate, volcanic beach, which you happen to be drinking.
Other nice things. The book is very pretty! If you want a book about drinks that happen to be alcoholic because you have too much room on your coffee table and are embarrassed about that, here is a solution! It also talks a good game about using local produce, which I am all about, obvsly (CSA, what), but in that awesome smug way which people who live in the Napa Valley, where anything can be grown, making local food not so much of a sacrifice, tend to use. So that is good? The recipes are also tremendously complicated, so they are good if you have several hours or days that you want to use just to demonstrate to your liver how much you hate it, or if you really want to impress your date when you ask her up for a drink (if she says yes, and you spend that much time making a drink, you are doing it wrong).
My gripes, as it were, fall roughly into two categories. First, and simplest, is that you must live next door to Scott Beattie to actually use all (or even most!) of these recipes. The recipes, even those that should be simple, call for a ludicrous array of ingredients, including, in his Pimm’s Cup recipe, three types of cucumber. Three. Way to screw with my simple, beautiful drink, jerk. Furthermore, they’re not written with substitution in mind; he does not, for example, write “2 oz Gravenstein apple juice – Nana Mae’s, if possible”. No, that wouldn’t be enough of a “screw you for not living in the beautiful Northern Californias” statement for him, apparently. He just goes ahead and writes a recipe that he must know most people will be unable to follow. That’s just a dick move. Of course we, the readers, being familiar with, say, both anise hyssop flowers and yuzu juice, can think of appropriate substitutions, but it’s kind of a discouraging beginning. Sure, he mentions that all of this is seasonal and local and wah-wah-wah I LIVE IN PARADISE SO SUCK IT MOST OF THE WORLD, WHERE YUZU IS SEASONAL WHEN NOW? OH RIGHT NEVER.
Second, his cocktail selection, well… it sucks. I’m sorry, that’s a technical term. Let me explain. Most of his original cocktails are based on vodka, and, while they are wildly inventive, they are wildly inventive in the least mixological way possible. They are essentially lovely smoothies and/or fruit salads, with vodka. Exciting! I do not dispute that they are delicious. But they are alcoholically boring. And, as previously mentioned, inaccessible. I believe one of his original cocktails calls for an aged spirit (brown spirits are deservedly reputed to be harder to design drinks around), while the rest call for white spirits: vodka (usually), gin, light rum, or blanco tequila. And the less-complicated cocktails? They are, for the most parts, recapitulations of classics which other writers have done more justice to in recent times.
Oh, man, I said two rough categories, right? I hate it when I lie on the interwebs. Because it turns out that there is a third category that bugs the hell out of me, as a nerdy guy: Scott Beattie is, in fact, technically wrong on a number of points. For example, he claims that cutting herbs into chiffonade has the same effect as muddling them (and makes incredible overuse of this technique). This is nonsense. When you cut herbs into a chiffonade (using a sharp knife), the point is to do as little cellular damage as possible, while, when muddling, you are basically crushing as many cells as possible. You may still get good flavor from a chiffonade, but it is not the same as muddling. He also makes confusing and not necessarily correct statements about essential oils, “preserving”, and other subjects. Finally, many of his recipes are for large quantities of product that he clearly states will not last more than 2-3 days. This makes them frustratingly useless for the home bartender, unless one is hosting a party to justify the effort of making such a large quantity of perishable, difficult food items.
Am I being petty? I love local food. The guy is clearly a talented… salad-maker (sorry, couldn’t help myself). This book is, at the very least, aspirational. But let me pull on my serious pants for a second here, because, honestly, we need fewer aspirational cookbooks (drinkbooks?). Over the last ten years we’ve elevated chefs (and, increasingly, bartenders) into celebrity based on visuals alone; most Americans watch celebrities like Emeril Lagasse cook on TV, maybe half of them will ever eat at the class of restaurant he (theoretically) represents, and almost none of them have learned anything about cooking from his and his ilk’s hundreds of glossy, beautiful, complicated How-To books. We are content to watch good food (and drinks) being created, then pull something out of the freezer and microwave it, accompanied by our TGIFridays Margarita-Mixer. How pathetic. If this guy wanted to write a decent book about creating seasonal cocktails for everyone, he could have, but instead we got this piece of self-flattery, which offers only one practical piece of advice: get to know your local farmers. Gee, thanks.
So, yeah, I didn’t like it. Except for the Beachfire Margarita. Because… zowie.
- 1 oz reposado tequila
- 1/2 oz mezcal
- 3/4 oz Cointreau
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1 tsp simple syrup
Coat the rim of an old-fashioned or rocks glass with coarse salt (Scott Beattie reccomends black sea salt, which would be cool if you are a salt aficionado) and fill with ice. Shake all other ingredients well with ice, then strain into the prepared glass.