DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks by Marcia Simmons & Jonas Halpren
Adams Media, 2011, $18.99, 228 pages, paperback, numerous color photos.
I own several bartending guides and I've seen many others, but I have never seen anything like this. In an era where bartenders are becoming "cocktail chefs", and mixed drinks are now made with weeds and meat extracts, Simmons & Halpren, DrinkOfTheWeek.com editors, have managed to not only concoct something creative and unique, but something really useful.
DIY Cocktails is based on categories and ratios so we can understand the concepts of what the elements of a balanced mix. Their motto is "ditch the recipe, use the ratio".
They break ingredients into these categories: Strong (spirits), sweet (sugars, syrups, liqueurs, and fruits), sour (tart things like citrus, and berries), aromatic (a subset of sour including vermouth, and bitters), weak (water, club soda, tonic), and mild (a subset of weak including milk and cream).
They give you guidelines for creating a recipe with ratios, so a typical tropical drink has a flavor profile of 4:3:1, 4 parts strong, 3 parts sweet, 1 part sour. At the core of the book are 10 foundation ratios, and then scores of recipes built on these foundations.
There is also a section called "Tools & Techniques Cheat Sheet" that discusses prep, glassware and drink sizes, chilling, muddling, measuring, and mixing. Along the way they teach us about ingredients, like how to make infused spirits. If you haven't noticed, spirits steeped with herbs, citrus rinds, fruits, peppers, and vegetables are all the rage in bars nowadays.
But don't worry, it is not all conceptual. There are scores of recipes ranging from the old standbys like the Old Fashioned, to surprisingly tasty treats like the Watermelon-Cucumber Refresher. Then they show you how to customize them. Just reading it significantly enhanced my bartending skills.