Straight Up: IMBIBE! by David Wondrich

published Apr 11, 2008
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Father of the cocktail, “Professor” Jerry Thomas was the consummate showman, a kind of early “flair” bartender. He wore diamonds. Lots of them. He hosted a pair of frisky white rats on his shoulder while giving a reporter an interview. He’d mix drinks by pouring them through the air in a wide – and sometimes flaming – arc. In 1862 he landed a book deal.

The work was called The Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks (also known as The Bon-Vivant’s Companion) and it was the first of its kind, something we take for granted now, a recipe book with precise measurements and detailed instructions for mixing drinks. It was a culinary landmark, a powerful influence on generations of bartenders well into the 20th Century. And then it disappeared.

But now with IMBIBE!, author, Equire columnist, Museum of the American Cocktail cofounder, and former English lit professor, David Wondrich, brings the spirit – if not full body of Thomas’ “sporty” tome back. Asking himself in the book’s Introduction, “W.W.J.T.D.?: What would Jerry Thomas Do?” Wondrich keeps things fresh and fun, preserving 100 of Thomas’ original recipes (annotated with modern equivalent measures – and advice on ingredients), but breaking new ground with creations from over a dozen modern Thomas-inspired mixology masters.

Weaving together meticulously researched biography and colorful barroom lore, Wondrich traces the origins of many of the standard cocktails we still enjoy today. And he does his share of myth-busting too, taking a closer look at the storied origins of the Martini, the Tom and Jerry, the Manhattan – and the name “cocktail” itself.

Nominated last month for the 2008 James Beard Award (winners to be announced in early June), IMBIBE! is a must-read for cocktail geeks – and other “sporty” types.

(Image: Nora Maynard)