Monday, April 27, 2015

New Books: Bitters, Shrubs and Smoke

The number of whiskey and cocktail books out there continues to grow. Along with great general works, we now have numerous specialty books that dive into very specific and specialized areas. Today, I review two such works.

Bitters & Shrub Syrup Cocktails by Warren Bobrow

Whiskey and cocktail writer Warren Bobrow takes us back to the medicinal history of cocktails with recipes that hearken back to the days when mixology was a subset of pharmacology.  While the title includes bitters and shrub syrups, the book's emphasis is really on shrub syrups which I had never heard of before reading Bobrow's fascinating book. Not being an advanced mixology buff, the only shrubs I knew of were the kind that grow in the yard which don't seem all that fit for use in cocktails. Shrub syrups, it turns out, are vinegar and sugar concoctions flavored with fruits, vegetables and/or herbs. Historically, they were often paired with rhum agricole, but Bobrow provides recipes for numerous shrubs syrups, shrub syrup cocktails, mocktails and even main dish recipes using shrub syrups.

Bobrow's drinks sound fantastic; who wouldn't want to try a cocktail that combines peated Scotch with a syrup made from tart cherries, honey, mirin and rice wine vinegar or a rum drink that includes a shrub syrup made from grilled peaches and Thai basi?  The only challenge is that making your own shrub syrups requires a fair amount of commitment as many of them have to age for at least three to four weeks (though he does provide some recipes that can be made in much shorter times). On top of that, some of the drink recipes include other syrups or infusions that are also fairly labor intensives.

This book is a huge amount of fun.  The recipes are creative, the text is engaging and I'd love to try pretty much every cocktail listed.  For a bar with a serious mixology program, this would be a fantastic resource.  For all but the most ambitious home-mixologists, though, it would be pretty daunting. That being said, there are a few bottled shrub syrups out there, so I might just take a few of these recipes for a spin with some of those.

Bitters & Shrub Syrup Cocktails by Warren Bobrow
Fair Winds Press ($22)
Releases May 1 but is available for pre-order on Amazon

Fire Water: Experimental Smoked Whiskeys by Darek Bell

Another new book that is even more focused on industry professionals is Darek Bell's Fire Water: Experimental Smoked Whiskeys.  Bell is the owner of the Corsair Distillery and is obsessed with integrating smoke into his whiskeys. Bell goes in depth with instructions about the various ways to make smoked whiskeys and then reviews and analyzes dozens of woods, barks, roots and herbs that can be used impart smoke.

This is a book that should be of great interest to craft distillers. One of the benefits of smoked whiskey, which Bell acknowledges, is that it makes very young whiskey more palatable (think Balcones Brimstone, Bruichladdich PC5, etc.) so it's a perfect fit for craft distillers who are trying to do something innovative but need to get product on the market.

As to the non-distiller, for me, it's always fun to read something by someone so dedicated to their craft, but unless you're a real distilling geek, it's probably more detail than you would want. Hopefully, it will inspire some distillers and in a few years, we will see a new generation of smoked whiskeys.

Fire Water: Experimental Smoked Whiskeys by Darek Bell ($30)

Thanks to Bobrow and Bell for copies of their books.

1 comment:

Sam Komlenic said...

We have a local company here in central PA that has been making shrubs for more than 20 years, and they're excellent and reasonably priced.