You see, that first sentence ends with three things I love: whiskey, cocktails, and books. I have read great books on whiskey and I have read great books on cocktails. I hadn’t yet read a great book that focuses on both whiskey and whiskey cocktails.
Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic and Original Cocktails by Michael Dietsch is, for me, that great book. It begins by defining whiskey in its myriad forms and includes the requisite “whiskey vs. whisky“ explanation. Dietsch then takes the reader through the process of making whiskey from the raw ingredients to fermentation and distillation through aging and batching. He makes a detour along the way to explain some finer points about cooperage, which is often the most overlooked component of whiskey making.
If you’re like me and got into whiskey through bourbon, you may have less experience with Irish, Scotch, and Japanese whiskeys. Dietsch details the history of each of these styles (as well as rye, bourbon, Tennessee, craft, and Canadian), what is unique about how they are made, and how to mix with them.
Whiskey then turns to cocktails where there is the requisite cocktail book introduction to tools, glassware, and technique. The recipes are broken into five cocktail eras from 1860 to today. In addition to the usual suspects (Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Sazerac, Mint Julep, etc), there are so many delicious drinks that this review nearly turned into a list of things I would drink right now (Boulevardier! Rusty Nail! Preakness! Penicillin!)
One cocktail that caught my eye was the Mother-in-Law. It is a bottled cocktail (that I happened to already have all of the ingredients to make) with a wonderful backstory that was rediscovered and refined by Chuck Taggart and Brooks Baldwin. The cocktail itself has other mixological relatives, but to me, it is reminiscent of the “fancy” and “improved” cocktails of the pre-Prohibition era: an old fashioned with an extra dash of this or that.
- 2½ teaspoons Peychaud’s Bitters
- 2½ teaspoons Angostura bitters
- 2½ teaspoons Torani Amer
- 1½ ounces maraschino liqueur (Luxardo or Maraska)
- 1½ ounces Cointreau or high-quality orange curaçao (I used Pierre Ferrand)
- 1½ ounces simple syrup
- One 750-ml bottle Buffalo Trace bourbon
- Cherry, for garnish
Combine ingredients, except the cherry, thoroughly and pour into a clean one-quart bottle.
To serve, pour three ounces into a mixing glass with cracked ice. Stir for no less than 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a stemless cherry. (I also enjoy it on a large cube with a twist of lemon peel.)
Do you know what’s perfect to bring to a dinner party? THIS. I know because I brought a bottle of this to a dinner party and the bottle was empty that night. If you refill the Buffalo Trace bottle with the mixture, there is enough left over for two small or one generously sized cocktail.
Whiskey is informative and well-written, with a conversational tone that keeps it from feeling like a textbook. I learned plenty about the whiskey-making process and discovered more than a few cocktails I want to add to my repertoire.
Disclaimer: Early review copies of Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic and Original Cocktails were provided to Bourbon & Banter for this review. We appreciate their willingness to allow Bourbon & Banter to review the book with no strings attached.