The craft cocktail movement has gotten a little intense and, though I'm not complaining, many feel that it's all become a bit precious with infusions, fancy syrups and locally-sourced herbal tinctures. In Cocktails for Drinkers, author Jennifer McCartney gives you the guidance you need to make "a good, stiff cocktail at your kitchen counter", no muddling required.
Framed as the "anti-hipster drink book" that is "perfect for hipsters and their haters", McCartney sends up the craft cocktail movement with a healthy dose of sarcasm and a lot of booze.
Who This Book is For
This book is for people who need their drinks to get to the damn point. These cocktails are strong, easy to make and often quite large. Due the to heavy-pouring nature of the recipes, this is a cocktail book for the person who isn't afraid to actually taste a bit of ethanol.
If you've used the word "artisanal" in a non-ironic way in the last month or so, this book is probably not for you. If you roll your eyes every time I write a post about super clear ice cubes, you will probably get a kick out of it. This isn't to say that a lover of housemade bitters and smoked ice couldn't enjoy this beverage book, but a self-deprecating sense of humour would be required.
Every beverage is comprised of three ingredients or less, not counting garnishes, and keeps the instructions as simple as humanly possible. The goal of this book is less about crafting a perfect martini, and more about getting drunk on tasty, easily mixed beverages. It's also a great gift for your friend who needs to lighten the eff up about drinking.
What You'll Get
Cocktails for Drinkers is divided by spirit, and covers cocktails containing:
- Whiskey, bourbon and rye (all one chapter)
- Champagne and Prosecco
- Assorted liquors and liqueurs
But before you even get to the recipes, McCartney shares a bit of her laid-back drinking philosophy in the extremely entertaining introduction.
Not only does McCartney shun the shiny bar spoon, she goes so far as to advocate measuring by sight. I mean, her reasoning is pretty solid:
You don't even really need a shot glass for measurement. What's the worse that could happen? Whoops -- too much booze in my cocktail! Not a real thing that happens. Use your eyeballs and pour booze from a bottle into a glass filled with ice. Add your second and third ingredients. Stir it. Drink it.
McCartney's views on bitters and garnishes are similarly lax. Though she suggests buying a few premade bottles of grenadine and simple syrup, they're not viewed as necessities, and she presents garnishes as something that exist mainly for "optics".
Each section has a nice, historical or anecdotal blurb about the spirit at hand, many of which made me giggle. At the beginning of the tequila chapter, McCartney describes a university tequila party which resulted in a friend's hospitalisation, the lesson of which was "don't let your kids go to college". Other than that, it's just simple recipe after simple recipe. You may notice a few favourites missing; there's no French 75 or Sazerac, as these violate the "three ingredient rule". Even so, there are plenty of recipes that fall under this rule that are well-crafted (and economical) without being fussy.
One Trick You'll Take Away
This book is one big attitude adjustment, and the trick is getting the reader to chill. The main message here is "relax, it's just alcohol", which is as refreshing as the Bloodhound cocktail (4 strawberries + 57g gin + 57g sweet vermouth) you will find within the binding of this irreverent tome.
The best thing about Cocktails for Drinkers is that it gives you a ton of ideas for cocktails that taste good without making an expensive trip to the liquor store. Though there are a lot of "liquor + soft drink" recipes, there are also a fair amount of classier cocktails slipped in there, such as the Americano (57g Campari + 57g sweet vermouth + splash of soda water) and the Gimlet (114g gin + 57g lime cordial + lime wedge).
Cocktails for Drinkers is a fun and funny book with lots of perfectly serviceable cocktail recipes that will get you blitzed. It's a great book for someone who wants to get into making cocktails at home, but is worried about messing up the ratios. It's also just a fun read. Just when I started to take this whole thing too seriously, I encountered McCartney's "recipe" for "White Wine" which is just a bottle of white wine that you better not let breathe.
Flavour-wise, the beverages run the gamut from super sweet to super dry. I'm not a huge fan of a cloying cocktail and found the drinks sweetened with syrup or honey (such as the Bee's Knees, which is 85g gin + 42g lemon juice + 42g honey) to be just a tad much. The ethanol only beverages, however, were strong and true, and the serving sizes are not for the faint of liver.
Though it's contrary to the spirit of the book, I do have a few quibbles. One of the most important things you can learn about making cocktails is when to shake vs. when to stir. Contrary to what Bond films may have taught you, a shaken martini is a glass of lies. Shaking should be reserved for those times when your beverage contains syrups, juices or other ingredients with with viscosities and densities that vary greatly from that of your alcohol. In those instances, extra agitation is needed to help fully incorporate the ingredients into one, homogenous beverage. This isn't needed in an all-alcohol cocktail, and doing so will water down your drink. Though McCartney recommends stirring and straining the gin martini, the instructions for a vodka martini recommend the use of a cocktail shaker for an "extra-cold beverage". Conversely, the Bee's Knees (which contains a fair amount of honey) would greatly benefit from shaking, rather than simply "combining" and serving over ice.
I appreciate that McCartney avoids bogging down her readers with unnecessary bar equipment like $80 stirring glasses, but that doesn't change the fact that some cocktails just taste better when stirred. Though it's easy to go overboard with "rules" when it comes to drinking, some of the recipes in Cocktails for Drinkers overcompensate in the other direction. You may not need a fancy wooden muddler to make the Bloodhound, but the recipe calls for "mashed" strawberries. Sure, you can accomplish this with a fork, but it's still basically muddling, and we were promised there would be "no muddling" in the introduction.
These are small points, and they're ones that you may not care about. You could easily argue that these criticisms simply illustrate that I am the type of scum that this book was not written for. After all, who do I think I am? I drink Campari and soft drink out of a coffee mug.
You can buy Cocktails for Drinkers: Not-Even-Remotely-Artisanal, Three-Ingredient-or-Less Cocktails that Get to the Point on Book Depository for $19.20.
This is part of Lifehacker's book review series. Not every life hack can be summed up in a blog post, so we've decided to review some of our favourite life-changing books for deeper dives into life's most important topics.