An American architect, Charles Luckman, who designed landmark buildings like Madison Square Garden and Lever House, once said, ‘Success is that old ABC – Ability, Breaks, and Courage.’
For alcohol writer Henry Jeffrey’s who has just released his new book, The Cocktail Dictionary: An A-Z Of Cocktail Recipes, that success could be better represented by mastering the Americano, the Boulevardier and the Clover Club.
“I think the main thing I want people to take away from the book is that cocktails are not something that they should be afraid of. I think there is a knack to cocktails, that only comes through practice.”
Jeffreys, who is a features writer for the drinks eCommerce company, Master of Malt, has long had a love for cocktails, but more when bartenders made them. He, like so many aspiring home mixologists, never felt quite as enthusiastic when he made them at home.
“It took me a long time to realise that cocktailmaking is as much a science as an art,” Jeffreys said. “And I always used to wonder why my martinis weren’t very good but you can’t just throw it together and think you are being creative.
“It bears more of a resemblance to baking than ordinary cooking, relying on precise ratios, measurements and temperatures. You have to learn the basics, and then you can become a bit more experimental.”
And mastering the basics, or at least the cocktails that are considered to be classics, is one of the main reason that Jeffreys has created his book. He hopes will not only inspire but also educate his readers to make better drinks at home.
“I’m not writing it from the perspective of a bartender who knows everything and is dispensing knowledge. It’s more like someone who is going on the cocktail discovery with you. Hopefully, it’s a bit lighter, funnier and slightly more whimsical than a lot of the bare almost stark cocktail books on the market.”
As well as providing the recipes and instruction for making over 100 classic drinks, the book goes into a little of the history and what makes the drink important. Jeffreys takes you from Prohibition with the Bees Knees, into 1950s Havana with the Daiquiri and then into the mindset of James Bond with the Americano, which was in featured in Fleming’s short story From A View To A Kill.
“I think for me, the stories behind drinks is kind of what I’m interested in the most,” he said. “I think a lot of drinks are history in a glass. They’ve got a great story to tell. I always think it’s a shame when people don’t tell the story, or when people don’t know the interesting stories behind what they’re drinking.”
But The Cocktail Dictionary isn’t just stories and measurements. Scattered among the recipes are helpful sections that explain a number of the techniques you’ve need to master, but Jeffreys stresses that the book is very approachable and there is nothing too complicated.
“You see bartenders, and they are incredibly skilled. You can see that by the way they pour things from a great height without spilling a drop. It’s incredibly skilful, but there’s none of that in the book. There’s nothing that requires hand-eye coordination or split-second timing.
“Instead, it’s more about things to listen or watch out for. The sound you might hear when the ice has broken, which might mean that your drink has gone slushy, things like that. There are also other tips about egg whites and how long you need to shake them and that it’s useful to do a dry shake without ice beforehand.”
While the book doesn’t include every classic drink ever created, Jeffreys explains that choosing which to include came down to taste as well as the story.
“Well, for example, we were going to put the Zaza and the Queen Mother in the book,” he explained. “They are both cocktails with Dubonnet and gin but we decided we don’t really need two cocktails with both of those ingredients.
“We already had the Zombie, so we thought, ‘We don’t need another cocktail beginning with Z’. So we included the Queen Mother, there’s more of a story because you can talk about how the Queen Mother loved Dubonnet.”
Yet when it comes to what he enjoys drinking himself, Jeffreys is quick to say that the drinks that exist within the family or variations of a Manhattan are definitely his go-to drinks.
“There’s one called a Palmetto, which is half rum and half Italian vermouth, and I made one recently with a really funky Jamaican rum. And that was particularly good.”
The Cocktail Dictionary: An A-Z Of Cocktail Recipes is available through amazon.com