Book Review: SKINNYTINIS by Teresa Howes

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Cocktails are great, but one of their downsides is how many calories you take in drinking them. As we all get older, we lose metabolism and start gaining weight. Quelle horreur. Can we enjoy our cocktails and still keep our girlish figures?

Teresa Howes says yes. I say yes too, but probably not the same way and for not the same reasons. My answer would be, if you want to cut down on calories, the easy fix is to drink slightly less. Unfortunately, that means you won’t get as shit-faced. Whomp-whomp. Howes’ answer is to use only liquor with the highest alcohol-to-calories ratio in her cocktails, then combine them with low-calorie mixers like diet soda, fruit juice, and sweet-and-low.

What this means on a practical level: the only alcohols you can drink are high-proof vodkas, gins, rums, tequilas, or whiskeys. And the vast majority of recipes in Skinnytinis use vodka exclusively (I actually don’t recall seeing any whiskey recipes in this book, but I might have missed them).

This is great if you like vodka, but I’m not a huge fan. I actually only use it to make other liqueurs. My favorite liquor is brandy, with whiskey a close second. And I like using mixers like vermouth. Vermouth is cheap.

Also, some of the recipes in Skinnytinis make no sense from a bartending perspective. I have never in my life seen a drink recipe that called for a caffeinated beverage to be shaken. Wha-huh? That makes no sense. Usually you add the carbonated element after shaking all the other ingredients together. Then there are other drinks that really SHOULD be shaken because otherwise the ingredients won’t mix well, and they aren’t. This is the kind of stuff that would make Jeffrey Morgenthaler and other cocktail geeks spazz the hell out. I don’t consider myself a cocktail geek, but after reading this book I do think Skinnytinis is completely divorced from mixology and traditional bartending. 

Nevertheless, a part of me thinks maybe Skinnytinis would work for the average American who generally only has one liquor on hand—especially if that liquor is vodka—and has only ever ordered cocktails at a bar. For people who aren’t well-versed in mixology, I can see how Howes’s recipes might be more approachable than traditional cocktails. So while this definitely wasn’t the cocktail book for me, it might be for others.

Thank you to the author and CLP Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book for review!

Cocktail Apps

I usually review cocktail books here, but there’s another resource for finding cocktail recipes—mobile apps! Here are three that I’ve found to be good resources:

Mad Men Cocktail Culture

Mad men cocktail culture

Price: 99 cents

This was one of the first cocktail apps I downloaded. I really like the design, and the cocktails are all classic. There’s also a “game” where you mix a virtual cocktail and then virtually drink it, which is kind of fun/stupid (fupid?). For the most part, this app is totally worth 99 cents, but sometimes the recipes contain obvious editorial errors and it can have issues loading and running smoothly.

Food & Wine Cocktails

food and wine cocktail app

Price: Free

This is one of the fanciest cocktail apps I’ve come across. Design-wise it’s fabulous, and you can search through a dizzying variety of cocktails by spirit, type, and food pairings. There are lists of top bars and lots of information to help novice mixers. F&W constantly updates the app with holiday drinks and cocktails of the week. The main issue I have with this app is that a lot of the cocktails are either expensive or difficult to make, with obscure ingredients. And because the design is so complex, the app can lag or crash, especially if you have a low battery. Overall, though, I think this is worth the download just for the pictures and the cocktail of the week alerts.

Cocktail Flow

cocktail flow app

Price: Free

This is a random app I downloaded that has turned into one of my favorite cocktail apps! The design isn’t as fancy as the Mad Men Cocktail Culture or F&W app, but Cocktail flow runs reliably and has some great, unique cocktail recipes (for certain liquors, gin and brandy specifically. Fortunately I like gin and brandy cocktails). You can enter the spirits you have into a search function and it will automatically list all the cocktails you can make, as well as suggest ingredients to buy to make the most out of the liquor you already have on hand. Pretty neat! You can search for cocktails by base liquor, type, and color, and buy additional cocktail guides for specific holidays at 99 cents each. This one is DEFINITELY worth the download, and it’s free.

Do you use cocktail apps, and are there any you’d recommend?


the essential cocktail cover  

I was very pleasantly surprised by The Essential Cocktail by Dale Degroff. It’s a huge coffee table-sized book with fabulous pictures, and based on that I made the assumption that’s ALL it would be. So I guess what they say about assumptions is true.

Degroff, who has worked as a bartender in places like the Rainbow Room and is called “king cocktail” (don’t know if he came up with that appellation himself or not), writes really well, and The Essential Cocktail is full of excellent cocktail recipes, tips and techniques, well-research history, and a great mix of vintage recipes and modern adaptations.

I honestly learned SO MUCH from this book about the history of cocktails. Degroff doesn’t just regurgitate the same stories; he actually digs deeper to find their true origins and the forces that influence bartending over time. The cocktail recipes are also great. Nearly every one I’ve tried so far has been 100% worth mixing, even if it wasn’t my favorite. There is a good mixture of standby cocktails—Manhattans, Long Island iced tea, margaritas, mojitos—along with more obscure olde-timey cocktails like the Clover Club and Degroff’s modern-day inventions.

I also appreciated the most personal aspects of The Essential Cocktail where Degroff talks about his own career history. In one section, he mentions that when he first started as a bartender, he only knew how to mix cocktails with pre-made mixes. He didn’t even know there were other kinds of cocktails until a customer told him, “I don’t want that; I want a real cocktail.” That prompted Degroff to start educating himself about cocktails. Considering his career since then, I thought this was a great illustrative story about how everyone has to start somewhere, and The Essential Cocktail is definitely a book that’s accessible to someone who has never made a cocktail before, as well as people who think of themselves as experienced mixologists.

My only issue with The Essential Cocktail is that there are a lot of gin recipes in it—I’d say maybe 80% of the recipes call for gin. I would have appreciated more brandy and whiskey recipes (especially since I ran out of gin shortly after getting this book, haha).

Other than that, though, this is a great cocktail book. Even if you don’t want to mix any of the drinks and just want to read about the history of cocktails, The Essential Cocktail is interesting and well-written, with beautiful photography. Definitely recommended!

Book Review: SEE MIX DRINK by Brian D. Murphy

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See Mix Drink by Brian Murphy is pretty much your basic cocktail recipe book. The twist is that Murphy, a graphic designer, tries to demonstrate visually how to make the drink instead of just listing ingredients.

lemon drop

WHAT I LIKED: The graphic design in See Mix Drink is okay, but what I really liked about the book are some special features I haven’t seen in other cocktail books so far. For example, Murphy tells you whether a drink is good for before- or after-dinner, brunch, or anytime. He also gives the calorie count for each drink (I’m not personally watching my caloric intake, but it’s a good idea). I also heartily approve of the way the book is organized, which is by the base of the cocktail. If I’m making cocktails at home, I’m thinking, “Hm, I’m in the mood for whiskey tonight,” and having all the whiskey-based cocktails grouped together is much more logical to me than organizing them alphabetically (as in Classic Cocktails by Salvatore Calabrese, review here) or by drink type (as in DIY Cocktails, review here).

corpse reviver #1

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: I didn’t have any major issues with See Mix Drink, but there were times when the proportions or methods of mixing the cocktails seemed a little screwy—shaking a pink gin, for example, makes no sense. The main issue I had with this book is the index. There’s one where the cocktails are organized by name, and one where they’re organized by calories. There’s no way to search for after-dinner drinks, or for the drinks’ secondary ingredients like vermouth or absinthe.

Overall, this is a very basic cocktail book. Personally I found Calabrese’s Classic Cocktails to have more information and better selection of cocktails, but 1. that book’s out of print; and 2. I can see where someone might not want to read a whole treatise on the history of cocktails before getting to the drinks. See Mix Drink makes cocktails very accessible to the average person. The most obscure ingredient called for here is probably absinthe or Dubonnet; everything else is relatively common and easy to find. The bartending methods are also simple—basically mixing or shaking. Murphy doesn’t go into much depth about bartending techniques or tools, but See Mix Drink is really for home bartenders who don’t want to make their drinks too complicated.

Book Review: DIY COCKTAILS by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren

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I have to be honest and say I didn’t expect a lot from DIY Cocktails when I first picked it up at the library. However, this book really surprised me with the complexity of information it presented in a very simple and easy-to-understand format.

DIY Cocktails tries to give its readers an understanding of the methodology of bartending by teaching cocktail ratios, not just giving recipes. It’s very teach-a-man-to-fish-ish. I had some problems with this. For one, I objected to some of the ratios. A sidecar has the same proportions as a daiquiri? Um, no. But my main problem with the proportions is that I have a mental block when it comes to fractions. Decimals I can handle just fine, but when people start talking about fractions, this buzzing sound starts in my head and I go to my safety place with unicorns and bunnies. Then the person stops talking and I’m like, “Sorry, what were you saying?” If you want me to do anything with fractions, I will find a way to screw it up (note the “equal parts sweet and dry vermouth” disasters I’ve had).

SO ANYWAY. I had some reservations about how useful this book would be to me. But for the most part I didn’t find the proportions that difficult to work with, mainly because Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren also give measurements along with the proportions (thank you).

But the real benefit to DIY Cocktails, and why you should pick the book up, is because of the recipes for making your own flavored syrups, sodas, liquor, and bitters. Bitters: A Spirited History has recipes for making your own syrups and bitters, too, but the ones in DIY Cocktails seem much more accessible. Simmons and Halpren give you the tools to create basically any type of liqueur you want, with a handy-dandy chart detailing types of flavorings, how to treat them, and how long to let them steep in alcohol. They also give recipes for some of their favorite infusions and cocktails to use them in.

Unfortunately, this is also the part of DIY Cocktails where the proportions stopped working for me. What does “1 part” mean in relation to an apple? The apple chopped? The amount of apples it would take to make a cup of apple sauce? Just tell me how many apples to use, for the love of god!

For the most part, though, I found this book really interesting and useful. Definitely something that can be used by anyone interested in cocktails, from beginners to mixologists.

Book Review: BITTERS a spirited history of a classic cure-all by Brad Thomas Parsons

bitters cover

I LOVE this book!

I saw Bitters randomly in my library catalog while I was searching for something else and decided to check it out. The book is divided into four basic parts: the history of bitters, along with a snapshot of the current cocktail culture; how to make your own bitters; cocktail recipes; and recipes for food to make with bitters.

The history section of this book is pretty short, but I’m okay with that. Bitters is gorgeously designed, has incredible photographs, and Brad Thomas Parsons gives great tips for setting up your own bar and making drinks. For example, I’ve had some trouble with flips—cocktails with eggs in them—turning out clumpy and not looking very appetizing. Parsons suggests dry shaking the ingredients first, then adding ice and shaking again until it’s chilled. Brilliant! He also includes recipes for making your own syrups and reductions to give different flavors to your cocktails with things like rosemary, honey, ginger, and key lime.

The cocktail recipes are a mix of classic and new. The classic recipes do a great job of respecting the history of the cocktails while still adding Parsons' own twist. As for the contemporary cocktails, I wouldn't mind ordering them in a bar, but a lot of them are either too complicated or use too many expensive ingredients for the non-professional home cocktail maker, in my opinion. The appeal of classic cocktails, and the reason why they've lasted so long, is that they're SIMPLE. There are a few simple contemporary cocktails highlighted, however, that I'll definitely be trying.

As for the home-made bitters recipes, I haven’t gotten to point where I want to make my own bitters yet. But I do want to try making them at one point, and I think this will be a great resource.

Overall I think this book is FABULOUS. Whoever did the photographs deserves a hug. I loved practically everything about Bitters and I learned so much about cocktails in general. It’s definitely not a ‘history’ book, per se, but I think it does a great job of inspiring interest in bitters as well as inspiring the average person to try advanced bartending techniques.

Book Review: CLASSIC COCKTAILS by Salvatore Calabrese

classic cocktails cover

My mom gave me Classic Cocktails by Salvatore Calabrese when she found out I was getting into cocktails. Neither of us have any idea where she got it, but it apparently had been sitting on her shelves for awhile—it was really dusty. 

I have to say I really enjoy this book and think it’s a great resource. Calabrese is a bartender at the Library Bar in London (or at least was when this book was published in 1997), and really knows his stuff. The text is a great mixture of fun, interesting history and recipes. Also there are FAB illustrations in this book that I love, like the ad for Teacher’s Whiskey I posted here a few weeks ago.

That being said, Classic Cocktails does feel a little dated. There’s an entire chapter about martinis—not surprising, considering this came out in the middle of the ‘tini craze—and Calabrese's martini is very, very dry. Also, there's not a lot of discussion about the finer techniques of bartending, which could definitely stand to be expanded upon.

Overall, though, I’ve been very satisfied with the recipes I’ve tried out of this little book. If you’re looking for a good introduction to classic cocktails, this book’s definitely worth checking out.