Book review: Classic Cocktails, by Salvatore Calabrese

I don’t judge books by their covers, but if I did, ‘Classic Cocktails’ would be off to a strong start. The gloss gold embossed cover is wonderful to touch and stands out on on the bookshelf or the coffee table. Perhaps this tactile feature is designed to make the book easier to handle with slightly damp hands, sticky from squeezing limes and mixing sugar syrup, whilst leafing through to select a concoction. In any case, for me it’s the sort of book which I’ll make an effort to keep in mint condition, away from the cocktail prep area itself.

This book is a revamp of Salvatore’s 1990s release. It’s full of great practical tips and throw-backs to the golden age of the cocktail; an era which the recent trend for underground ‘speakeasy’ bars has given an, albeit warped, new lease of life to. For someone starting out with some quality mixology at home, or for bartenders who want to broaden their knowledge of cocktails and deepen their understanding of the heritage of some classic drinks, I think this book makes for a perfect starting point.

There’s a handy shopping list of key spirits for creating delicious drinks, and also a list of syrups, and how to make them easily at home. It’s great to see this practical advice, we all need to save a few pennies after all. With the Monin spend slashed, I have a few new items on my cocktail kit wishlist now, including a proper cream-whipping device dedicated to cocktails. Salvatore’s recipe for an aged Blood and Sand topped with an orange foam sounds divine, I’d love to be able to make this at home.

Salvatore is an excellent storyteller. The history of the Martini is a great read, and his account of how his dry (or direct) Martini came to be invented is highly entertaining. And I certainly have a lot of respect for Salvatore for refusing a part in Casino Royale, because it would mean shaking a Martini, rather than stirring it!

The recipes in this book are clearly and concisely presented, but for me what really makes this stand out is the anecdotes; the details of how lesser known classic drinks such as Clover Club and Absinthe Suissesse got their beginnings, and an in-depth discussion about the origins of the Bloody Mary. These little bits of history make for a truly absorbing read.