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Bucking Cocktail Orthodoxy in Drink What You Want

I recently read the new cocktail book by John deBary Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails. 


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I guess I expected it to be a superquick book of easy classics, as it features a lot of pictures and giant fonts (and a Margarita on the cover with salt rim and a single ice cube which is...  not how I want mine), but the book has a great deal of depth. I ended up jotting down a page of ideas it inspired. 

The cocktail world has a lot of orthodoxy (build the drink from the least expensive ingredient; this is the correct garnish for each drink), and in some cases these are urban legends (boil the water for better ice; bruising the gin), so what I like the most about this book is how deBary has seemingly spent time pondering orthodoxy only to reject it when it doesn't make sense. It's not a contrarian book, but a thoughtful one. 

Following orthodoxy would be to repeat all the things bartenders "know" but have not necessarily tested for themselves. Instead, expressed in different ways throughout the book, it seems he's asked himself:

  • What is the purpose of this cocktail; what time of day/mood is it for?
  • What is the relationship of the drink's ingredients to each other?
  • What makes this drink delicious? What makes it function? 
  • What are its potential failure points and how do we prepare for them? 

Stuff like that. This manifests in advice like:

  • You can make a Daiquiri variation with manzanilla sherry (I so have to try this).
  • An orange garnish on a Manhattan is aromatic overkill; stick to Luxardo cherries.
  • The Dirty Martini is an introduction to savory cocktails.
  • Making a "soda sandwich" to maintain better carbonation.
  • Dry shake the non-carbonated ingredients in a Tom Collins.
  • For Last Word variations, if you use aged spirits, switch to lemon juice and Yellow Chartreuse. 
  • The sugar rim on a Sidecar isn't necessary, so he doesn't give directions on how to do it. 
  • Add egg yolk to a Bloody Mary. 

There are also lots of jokes and a bit of snark to make it a fun read. I guffawed! 

There are sections in the book for the cocktail archetypes, for specific classic cocktails, lazy cocktails (low-effort drinks), fancy cocktails (like a Baroque Daisy), bulk/party cocktails, non-alcoholic cocktails, and desperate cocktails (including a range of vinegar sours for when you don't have fresh citrus, and a Michelada made with a ketchup packet). 

The non-alcoholic cocktails look particularly well thought out, with deBary specifying the heat from white pepper rather than black to mimic the sting of alcohol in a couple of drinks; jalapeno and verjus together in another; licorice tea to add texture in a third. 

Overall, a book with simple cocktails and classics for the noobs, thoughtful analysis for the grizzled pros, excitingly stupid drinks for the lazy and desperate, and a lot of little revelations in cocktail flavor and function throughout.  Great stuff. 




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