On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, I headed into Philadelphia's Society Hill neighborhood for a cocktail and local cheese pairing at the Twisted Tail. Just outside the restaurant under a brick structure known as The Shambles, the Headhouse Farmers Market celebrated opening day for the season. Many of the cheeses I was about to taste came from market vendors.
The cocktails I sipped came from "The New Cocktail Hour: The Essential Guide to Hand-Crafted Drinks" by André Darlington and Tenaya Darlington, the brother-and-sister team behind the nourishing cocktail website Sprig + Spirit. Tenaya (who also answers to the name of Madame Fromage) hosted the event, guiding her guests through the pairings with expertise and humor.
The afternoon began with the Flutterby Lassi, one of the drinks in the book and also on the Sprig + Spirit website. It's also a fitting way to introduce my thoughts on the book.
When I saw the ingredients in the drink, I thought, "If anyone else but Tenaya put this in front of me, I would find a way to politely decline it."
Yogurt, absinthe, cucumber and dill — none of these ingredients suggest "must-try cocktail" to me, but after one sip of the Flutterby Lassi, I knew I was wise to trust Tenaya. The herbs and the diary tempered the black licorice flavor of the absinthe, which I usually find off-putting. This unexpected cocktail was refreshing and very drinkable, pairing wonderfully with goat cheese. The book suggests the drink is also is a terrific palate cleanser and recommends serving it between courses of a spicy meal.
Not all the pairings that day were as surprising. The second cocktail, a perfectly balanced French 75 (a classic gin, lemon and Champagne drink), is "THE cocktail for dairy and cheese," according to Tenaya. With those first two cocktails, everyone at the pairing got a glimpse of what they'd find in the pages of "The New Cocktail Hour" — both classic and unexpected cocktails, all "reimagined for the contemporary palate."
The Darlington siblings (pictured at left) set out to demystify the world of craft cocktails with this book, and I'd say they succeeded. It's not just a book of thoroughly explained cocktail recipes; it's also a cocktail history book, a guide to stocking your home bar with necessary basics, and an indispensable cocktail party-planning resource.
The book is well-organized. Instructions for each drink include suggestions for specific brands of spirits to get just the right flavor profile. Cocktail building methods are expertly explained. Each of the 214 vintage and modern cocktail recipes is accompanied by an appropriate food pairing, making choosing food at a cocktail party a simpler task.
In addition to this helpful information, the book is full of entertaining food and drink writing. Interspersed between cocktail recipes are engaging short articles on topics like how to drink like Ernest Hemingway, build your own gin and tonic bar, taste your way through martinis through the ages, or learn about barrel age cocktails.
Throw in some practical information on the various types and flavors of vermouth and bitters, and the mystery behind how your favorite upscale bar mixes craft cocktails starts to fade. There's even advice on the best ways to make and use ice. A thorough glossary of commonly used spirits with tasting notes on styles, tools and glassware plus instructions on how to make your own mixers like tonic or shrubs complete the book's demystifying contents.
I predict I'll be pulling this book off the shelf for cocktail instruction and inspiration for years to come, but here are the recipes I tagged to make soon from my first read-through:
- Clover Club: This elegant gin-based cocktail with vermouth and raspberry syrup to serve with "tea sandwiches and sugar cookies" caught my attention.
- French 75: The ingredients in this drink are common, but finding the perfect balance between them is not so common. I've had some sad ones in the past, but the one served at the cocktail and cheese pairing make it clear that André and Tenaya have nailed the balance for this bubbly beauty.
- Amaretto Sour: My go-to cocktail in my early 20s, the book's modern version deserves a shot to see if it has grown up as sophisticated as I have (insert smiley/winkie face emoji here).
- Butternut & Falernum: A butternut squash based cocktail. I have to try it.
- Tonic Syrup: It's time I elevated my favorite G+T by making my own syrup.
- Strawberry Shrub: All of my shrub experiments until now have used the stove-top method. The book calls for a cold method, letting it sit for two days in the refrigerator before bottling it.