Same great taste...new and improved!
If you talk to enough booze nerds, certain patterns emerge. Cocktail enthusiasts tend to share an affinity for a lot of the same things (i.e. bitters, Hawaiian shirts), and you'll begin to hear specific names get dropped frequently if you hang out with these folks long enough.
There are certain people, products and publications that are perennial favorites- every drink geek worth his or her salt will be at least vaguely familiar with them. To try to list them comprehensively is an ambitious task, but let's just say that if you found yourself in the average booze nerd's house, you could make pretty accurate guesses as to what you'll find on their bookshelf and in their liquor cabinet.
For now, we'll leave the subject of people's liquor collections aside...analyzing what bottles people let reside in their homes is a pretty tall (and contentious) order. Book-wise, there tends to be a bit more agreement on what volumes are "must-haves." And there's one title that crops up again and again when you ask discerning drunks about books that they always keep within easy reach and refer to with great frequency: Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails.
This book, assembled by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh performs an admirable double-duty. It's a great collection of drink recipes and related historical info. But it's also responsible for the creation of many drink geeks. Ask your average cocktail obsessive what got them started on their pursuit of quality tipples, and you'll find that several of them credit running across a copy of VS & FC as being responsible for kick-starting their quest.
That's what happened to me. Back in the 90's the Bamboo Babe had given me an edition of the Mr. Boston's guide, which gave me a glimpse into what you could do with booze and a few mixers. But it wasn't until her mother gave me a copy of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails a few years ago that the hook was set (apparently both these women want me loaded as often as possible).
Full-throttle geekery ensued. I imagine my trajectory wasn't terribly different from anyone else's: Wondering what the hell half the ingredients were. Then trying to FIND those ingredients. Discovering through trial-and-error which things I did & didn't care for. Learning proper mixing techniques. Spending unhealthy amounts of time online researching and sharing info with other enthusiasts. Wondering if there were any actual bars making these drinks anymore, or were they being crafted solely by hermits with outsized liquor stashes and a penchant for history?
So I ended up doing what many booze nerds embrace as the next natural step in the progression: Blogging. I don't know why so many of us feel the compulsion to document our drinking publicly, but there you have it. I began to notice a lot of boozebloggers were frequently posting recipes from VS & FC, and we compared notes. Clearly there were lots of others who were using this book as their bartop lodestone, and with good results. I also told anyone I met offline who expressed curiosity in drinking well that VS & FC was one of the first books they should get.
Then I discovered the damn thing was out of print. After telling everybody and their brother to go get it , the only place one could apparently be obtained was on the secondary market for well above the cover price. I guarded my copy like a religious artifact and refused to let it leave the house.
Except for when I toted it to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. You see, by then I was deep enough into my obsession to have reached the next stage in the game: making the annual pilgrimage to Tales. I knew that Ted Haigh would be there and if I ran into him I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his book and possibly get him to sign it. Also, he had been nice enough to comment on one of my earlier posts, and I wanted to thank him for visiting my site.
Fortunately, that happened. He was gracious, funny, knowledgeable and kind enough to invite me and the people who introduced us to have a couple drinks with him, despite his being short on time and sleep. Like I said, a heckuva guy.
It was at that time that Ted mentioned the possibility of a revised and expanded second edition of VS & FC. Several months later, it had apparently become a reality, because Ted emailed several people (including me), asking our thoughts on the role blogging plays in the current resurgence of interest in cocktails. I was tremendously flattered he wanted my feedback, and I answered his questions as thoughtfully as I could, assuming that I probably hadn't offered up anything particularly insightful or that hadn't been better articulated by others.
Fast-forward to this past June, when I was able to get my hands on a copy. It turns out that the blogger-specific content that Ted had described ambiguously as perhaps a small sidebar feature or occasional bit of color commentary ended up becoming an entire section of the book. It's titled "Pioneering Champions of the Forgotten Cocktail: The 25 Most Influential Online Cocktail Pioneers" and includes profiles of people who have used (and are still very much using) their access to the internet to advance the cause of good drinking.
As I scanned the list, I recognized many people, several of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting personally, and others I knew by reputation. Almost all have some presence of one kind or another on the internet, and they represent a truly frightening volume of booze knowledge.
Oh, and there's also this one guy who gets buzzed and makes cartoons about it.
Yeah, I'm in there for some reason. To me, that section of the book is 24 people who really know their stuff, and one dork who drinks and draws. But I'm incredibly honored to be in such good company. Most of them are listed over there on the right, and if you have the book you know who they are...and you should be stopping by their sites as often as possible.
If you don't have the book, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of the new edition, even if you're just mildly interested in making good drinks. It's got all the stuff from the first edition, plus a bunch more...and I guarantee there will be at least one drink in there that you'll like well enough to revisit many times.
However, I won't reveal which drink in VS & FC I find myself going back to again and again- I don't want to create any preconceptions. When you get the book, I suggest you simply do what I did, which is to explore with abandon.
Just don't get mad at me when you find yourself typing "Amer Picon" into a search engine at 2:30 am.