Book Review by Sapphire Ng
A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World
by Robert Simonson
Ten Speed Press
Copyright September 2016
Hardcover, 352 Pages
A Proper Drink makes for an incredibly light, effortless, and entertaining read. The narrative shines the spotlight on an eclectic range of figures, both prominent and eccentric, in the delightful universe of cocktails.
The extensive range of practical lessons, success stories and personal anecdotes featured qualifies the book as a satisfactorily inspirational piece of work, especially so for the aspiring bartender, bar owner, or cocktail pundit.
The organization and format of the book bestows upon the reader the experiential impression as if he or she enjoyed privileged access to almost a week-long industry cocktail event. An event whereby the reader, as one in the audience, will have the opportunity to be engaged intimately and directly by industry practitioners who generously share their wisdom and personal experiences.
The narrative is distinctly people-centered; the book will turn out to be a great fit for the reader who exhibit a predilection and preference to immerse oneself in meaningful life stories, and who derive immense pleasure learning from the personal journeys undertaken by a fellow human being.
The book is such a relaxing and easy read that it will make a great vacation read, even more so for the tourist venturing upon a drinks, cocktail and bars discovery trip in a foreign culture, city or country. It is also worth mentioning that the book indeed contains such a multifarious range of content that will prove ideal to be harvested as superb conversation starters, for both drinks industry mingling events, or even casual social settings.
With the text revolving around classic Sazeracs, tequilas and rum, bitters such as the Abbott’s bitters and more, one can only imagine the excitement that could seize drinks and cocktail enthusiasts and lovers as they devour the book. Included as well are potentially motivational mentions of innovative creations by industry practitioners, such as the creative Campari-laced Jasmine, or the inventive Gin-Gin Mule—a “Mojito (a rum drink) crossed with a Moscow Mule (a vodka drink), but made with gin.”
In reading the book, the reader will also get to entertain and inform himself or herself with certain interesting, if not peculiar, cocktail trivia. An example would be the rather quirky circumstance that supposedly led to the invention of the Vodka Espresso, or Espresso Martini. One could also gain awareness of certain seemingly forgotten cocktails such as the Cordial-Medoc and the Forbidden Fruit, or concoctions such as the Daiquiris or the Watermelon Martini through immersing oneself in the book.
The book surveys a marvelous range of figures pertinent and relevant to the cocktail narrative, characters ranging from famed bartenders to cocktail historians—one named himself “Dr. Cocktail”—, to the likes of cocktail columnists—for The Village Voice and Food Arts—and even cocktail book collectors—a man named Greg Boehm had apparently “amassed more old cocktail books” than anyone else.
The book expectedly spotlights salient figures in the cocktail world. Men such as Dale DeGroff who “probably remains the most famous bartender in the world;” Simon Ford who exemplifies the modern profession of the “liquor brand ambassador;” Dick Bradsell, a crucial figure in the British bartending scene; and of course, the atypical female in a predominantly male cocktail world—the women Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders, both protégés of DeGroff.
The narrative is also aptly contextualized in for example, the cocktail renaissance or the cocktail movement, including as well the elucidation of cocktail cultures, or their lack thereof, in certain regions or cities such as Washington, DC.
The book also considerably chronicled bars such as the arresting Rainbow Room, the prominent Milk & Honey, and the Pegu Club. It also detailed for example, the morphing of the London Academy of Bartenders (LAB) into “the most influential bar to emerge in the wake of the Atlantic.”
As promised, the book delivers a handful of cocktail recipes for classics such as the A La Louisiane, the Boulevardier, and the New York Sour, modern classics such as the Trident, and the likes of the seemingly oddly-named Penicillin cocktail, the Chartreuse Swizzle, or the expensive Laphroaig Project composed of ingredients qualifyingly “high end in the extreme.”
The abundance of allusions to seminal drinks or cocktail books in A Proper Drink could even double as an unofficial furnishing of suggestions for further reading. It will serve the reader well for him or her to independently research the individual titles mentioned in order to further one’s education in the subject matter. Titles such as the 1948 “bible” The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury, the historical And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis, Absinthe: History in a Bottle by Barnaby Conrad III, the 1977 Complete Barguide by Stan Jones, or the 1993 title Straight Up or On the Rocks by William Grimes.
The book however, is unfortunately poorly edited; there are a handful of grammar and spelling errors that distinctly impede the overall smoothness of the reading experience. A sentence for example, indicated that one “landed a job at a brunch waiter at Balboa Café,” whilst another went, “Post-Prohibition, many classic cocktails faded from the bartender’s repertoire because the tools needed to make them were no long made or imported”—“longer” was erroneously written as “long.” In another separate instance, “every” was spelled as “ever.” Whilst mostly entertaining, the book is occasionally unwarrantedly dull and bland to the extent that the reader might feel prompted to skip ahead.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.