The name of this book was chosen carefully. This is an encyclopedia of cocktails
. Its focus is cocktails, just as mine has been for nearly twenty years. Every entry, be it of a spirit or a particular historical bar or a notable person or a professional tool, is written with a view of how that spirit, bar, person, or tool played a role in the history, progress and proliferation of cocktails and cocktail culture. So, the entry on rye whiskey, for instance, does not dwell overly long on how rye is made or who makes it—information better left to books whose subject is whiskey or the making of spirits, of which there are many—but rather how it is used in cocktails, and how that use has changed over time. In other words, I wrote this book wearing cocktail-colored glasses, and you should read it with the same frames.
The time frame covered by this book ranges from the earliest days of mixology to the current day. There are classic cocktails and modern classics; bars that live in legend only and bars that operate today; bartenders famous in their day and famous today.
Regarding the tone of the text, I have tried to write a popular, people’s history of cocktails. During my years as a cocktail historian, the texts I have enjoyed best and gotten the most out of, be they books or individual pieces of journalism, were the ones written with a point a view and heavy dollops of opinion. That sort of attitude is, I believe, natural. It’s almost impossible to sample a drink or experience a bar without developing almost instant impressions of them. The urge to express those impressions follows almost immediately after. I’ve tried to follow in that outspoken tradition in these pages. Throughout, one of the models I kept in mind was Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language from 1755. I don’t pretend to Johnson’s greatness, but I have admired since college his decision to inject humor and opinion into his definitions. (Classic example: “Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”) When’s the last time you laughed, or even smiled, while reading a reference book? I hope you will at this one.
That air of playful bias extends to the entries themselves, which number more than three hundred. All were selected by me and me alone. Some choices were obvious. Of course, I had to include the Martini, Jerry Thomas, El Floridita, and gin. If not, there would have been hell to pay. But mixed in between expected topics from absinthe to Zombie you will find more than a few wild cards.
Copyright © 2023 by Robert Simonson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.