When asked what all-around solid cocktail book we’d recommend, we often point to David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks. The problem with Esquire Drinks is that it’s out of print and increasingly difficult to find. We also frequently reference King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail, which are both excellent books. Simon Difford’s Cocktails: The Bartender’s Bible could have been a definitive tome were it not for recipes delineated by “shots” rather than ounces or milliliters.
Into this void steps Paul Henderson, one of the senior editors at GQ UK, who assembled a collection of 150 key cocktails into a stunning cocktail book that is simply seductive. Hardcover bound with a lie flat binding, the GQ Drinks book is as well assembled as any cocktail book we’ve seen. Broken down by spirit category, each recipe is clearly laid out with a concise introduction and clear directions.
The curation of cocktails in GQ Drinks is its strong suit as it brings together gold standard classics (Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, Margarita, and Moscow Mule), drinks that deserve to be classics (The Bramble and Tommy’s Margarita), complex modernist cocktails (Leather Aged Boulevardier, Claro Fandango and Enlightened Botanist ), and alcohol-free drinks (Virgin Southside, Aztec Hot Chocolate, and Lavender Fizz). As with any cocktail book, GQ Drinks also has a few “what the hell where they thinking drinks” like T.B.C. (Tequila Beer Chaser), which is effectively a beer and a shot, and Pink Bamboo, which has sake infused with grasshopper!
The cocktail recipes in GQ Drinks range in difficulty from combining a few ingredients to extremely complex homemade syrups, tinctures, and even vaporizing. All recipes are listed in both imperial and metric, something essential for any modern cocktail book. The biggest problem with GQ Drinks is that it has gone way overboard selling brand space in the book. Every single cocktail has brand-specific spirits attached, and they haven’t been picked because they are the best spirit for the cocktail – they’re in there because brands paid for them. The book is pretty egregious with this and even goes so far as to brand some of the cocktail names, so the Sazerac isn’t just a Sazerac but the “Thomas H. Handy Sazerac”, and the Daiquiri isn’t a just a Daiquiri, it’s a “Plantain Daiquiri” (of course with Plantation Rum). We understand the economics of the publishing industry all too well, but when a book is so shamelessly brand bought, it undermines its credibility.
Perhaps the most glaring example of absolute brand whoring is the cocktail recipe for the Negroni, which calls for Tanqueray No. 10 Gin, Martini Gran Lusso, and Marini Bitter. All of these are great products, but the Negroni is Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Gin. Omitting Campari and swapping in an ultra high end, limited edition vermouth is nothing short of shameless. Another face slapper is the cocktail recipe for Tommy’s Margarita, which calls for Jose Cuervo Reposado. We’ve been to Tommy’s and know Julio Bermejo, the creator of the drink, it’s hard to imagine he’d ever use Cuervo in his cocktail (unless a customer asked). It’s often Pueblo Viejo or Don Julio, and it’s typically BLANCO tequila.
It’s such a shame that such a beautiful book of well-curated cocktails is so eviscerated by brand sales. GQ Drinks is a reminder that there is still a market for well curated, well laid out, and concisely described cocktails. Perhaps Esquire will get inspired and have David Wonderich do another edition of Esquire Drinks. Until then we’ll be using our well tattered and worn copy.
GQ Drinks will be available on November 4th at the list price of $29.99.