Monday, August 31, 2009

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks: A must have for all connoisseurs of spirits


As we have the first few entries for our recipe contest come in, I would like to suggest a “must have” for all those who love to cook with wine and spirits.

It’s a book. “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” by David A. Embury. It’s got nothing to do with our recipe contest but is a must have for any cook and a good read for those who might not like to cook as well.

Also, chances are it’s out-of-print unless you are well connected with authentic bartenders who will always have a copy. The next step is to persuade them to sell it to you. Good luck with that! Or you can keep tuned in to the Spirits Unlimited Middletown blog where we bring you the latest news on things of interest to you and to us.

The book published in 1948, is a collection of cocktails from an attorney by trade. Interestingly, Embury was always at the “shaking-things-up” end of cocktail making while he entertained his guests. But it came upon him to shake things up with his pen and humor as he embarked on this project to categorize and catalog the cocktails of his time. Notably, according to Wikipedia, he was born on November 3, 1886 in Pine Woods, New York and died July 6, 1960 in New Rochelle, New York.

The book is noteworthy for its witty, highly opinionated and conversational tone, as well as its categorization of cocktails into two main types: aromatic and sour; its categorization of ingredients into three categories: the base, modifying agents, and special flavorings and coloring agents; and its 1:2:8 ratio (1 part sweet, 2 parts sour, 8 parts base) for sour type cocktails, according to Wikipedia.

However, you manage to read or buy a copy of this book for your possession or pleasure, here are some interesting facts.

According to Embury, a cocktail must have a visual appeal. One that is not attractive suffers from the “failure to launch” itself syndrome. The presentation, the color and the first sip are supposed to ignite passion in the consumer of the drink.

The next sip should tingle your imagination. The curiosity and the hint of something that you “can’t quite put your finger on” are all aspects of the cocktail’s very nature and reason for its existence, Embury said. It’s supposed to tease and excite without giving itself away.

A classic cocktail is one that increases your curiosity about its contents rather than indulge you in too much of any one taste, whether it’s sweet or fruity, according to Embury. In fact, he said a quality cocktail is never too sweet and never too strong on the alcohol end of things. Last and most important, good-quality, high-proof liquors make for good cocktails. And, don’t forget the ice please.

Robert Hess, author of The Essential Bartender’s Guide, is a sort-of modern day Embury himself as far as love for cocktails goes. Hess has been an employee of Microsoft since 1988, according to Wikipedia, and a co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. Further, Hess, along with several other well-known cocktail personalities, founded The Chanticleer Society, a "Worldwide Organization of Cocktail Enthusiasts," Wikipedia states.

Hess qualifies Embury as someone who “with a deep passion for, as well as an opinion about, what it took to make a proper cocktail.”

Hess’s review which appears online on The Spirit World further states: Books which attempt to cram within their pages as many different cocktail recipes as possible are almost a dime a dozen, and can often be seen behind many bars. As a simple reference, I suppose they have their place, but Mr. Embury’s book isn’t a simple reference book. While it does contain a fair number of cocktail recipes, this is a book that is intended to be read. Its recipes, and more importantly the information and opinions around those recipes, are intended to be educational, and that is what sets this book apart from almost any other.”

Interestingly, Hess said if you were looking to buy the book some 10 years ago, you could get one around $40. Now, it’s gone up by a few hundred dollars.

Hess also chronicles how Mud Puddle Books, New York, came out with a reprint of this 1948 book: “A reprint was clearly in need, the problem was that not only was the book new enough as to still be covered under copyright, but nobody seemed to know who actually held the copyright to the book now that Mr. Embury himself had passed away. Enter Gregory Bohem, owner of “Mud Puddle” a New York publisher, as well as an avid collector of old cocktail books. He decided that he really, really, needed to come out with reprint of this book. Diligently he followed various leads, many of them dead-ends, until he finally located Mr. Embury’s only surviving relative, his daughter Ruth Embury. Mud Puddle was quickly able to arrange to do a reprint, and an excellently executed one at that.

Hess says the reprint is now available on, or can be ordered from Mud Puddles:

About Me

This blog is designed, edited and published by Somdatta Sengupta for Circus Liquors Inc. Content is supervised by Stuart Keats, Manager of Liquor Operations for Circus Liquors Inc. Site header created by Denise Reinle. Graphics support provided by Phyllis Vivoli. Content support provided by Mike DeNiro. Store Manager for Spirits Middletown is Ray Kimble. He can be reached at (732) 957 9700. For questions, comments or more information, write to Spirits Middletown at For placing orders or any form of assistance with your fine wine, beer or other party planning requirements, call the store directly at (732) 957 9700.