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Chris Amirault

David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks

20 posts in this topic

Thanks to Mud Puddle Books and Adam at the Boston Shaker, I now have a copy of David Embury's incredible Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. It's a decisive, encyclopedic book, filled with compelling discussions -- or, perhaps, more accurately, pronouncements -- of virtually every aspect of the cocktail experience. (It's also dated, not only in regards to available ingredients but also to gender mores and the like; keeping its historical moment in mind, however, even the lengthy diatribes are entertaining.)

Embury is unapologetic about most things, and, to this reader, his self-embrace is most heartening. Indeed, writing in the sad, watery wake of Prohibition's repeal, Embury suggests that it is the obsessive home mixologist, and not the carefree bartender, who must carry forth the spirit of the cocktail. As an obsessive home mixologist, I find this ennobling.

As has been noted in a few places (including the reviews at the Amazon link above), the current edition of the book contains a shocking number of typographical errors. One of the reasons I started the topic was to be able to track any corrections to recipes that we find.

But this book should prompt more discussion posts than errata finger-points. Who's got it? What do you think of it? What have you made from it?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I have an earlier edition of it, not the Mud Puddle reproduction, that I scored for cheap in a second-hand bookstore. It's definitely a fun and interesting read.

One of the drinks I thought was interesting in it is the Bermuda Rose. I first ran across it in Regan's Joy of Mixology, where he describes it as a "somewhat confusing recipe" in Embury. It sure is! Reading the recipe, the three main questions seemed to be: 1) Sweet or dry vermouth? 2) Apricot liqueur or eau-de-vie? 3) Proportion of spirits to vermouth?

...which is pretty much the whole drink.

I ended up trying it in several variations, but my favourite was as follows:

1 oz. Tanqueray

1 oz. Zwack barack palinka

1 oz. Cinzano sweet vermouth

Dash grenadine

Dash each Fee's and Regan's orange bitters


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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The Bible. Welcome to the fold, Chris. And yeah it does make one kind of proud to be an obsessive home mixologist to be in the company of Embury, who was "never ... engaged in any of the manifold branches of the liquor business" and whose experience was "entirely as a consumer and as a shaker-upper of drinks for the delectation of my guests".

I was lucky enough to start out with this book when I was first getting into classic cocktails (along with Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, Esquire Drinks, and, of course eGullet). I originally got it from Interlibrary Loan (I believe it came from Auburn University, hats off to their librarian) and lovingly scanned every page to PDF. Now I have a copy of the British paperback edition. A great thing Mudpuddle Books has done for us all; I had often thought somebody ought to do just that.

Unfortunate about all the typos; hopefully somebody will take up the job of editing it and they will release a corrected edition.

One of my favorite drinks that I discovered through the book is the Pink Lady, and I still like Embury's recipe for it:

1 part Grenadine

2 parts Lemon Juice

2 parts Apple Brandy

6 parts Gin

1/2 of an Egg White

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In general, I find Embury more useful for the path and method of exploration it suggests than for any of the specific recipes, most of which I think are not very good in the ratios he suggests.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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In general, I find Embury more useful for the path and method of exploration it suggests than for any of the specific recipes, most of which I think are not very good in the ratios he suggests.

Yeah, what's the deal with his 8:2:1 ratio for everything? Those are some boozy Daiquiris...


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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In general, I find Embury more useful for the path and method of exploration it suggests than for any of the specific recipes, most of which I think are not very good in the ratios he suggests.

Yeah, what's the deal with his 8:2:1 ratio for everything? Those are some boozy Daiquiris...

To be fair, if you look at his simple syrup recipe, he calls for you to dissolve as much sugar as you can -- not the 1:1 syrup a lot of people use these days.

I have to disagree, and agree with Sam. In a lot of cases, his recipes are quite good, and much better than the Savoy-style recipes her revises. But, other times his anti-sweet absolutism absolutely ruins a recipe (prime example, the Bronx).

I know lately 2:1 spirit:vermouth ratios are popular, but there a lots of good ratios for a Martini or Manhattan, and, in my book 7:1 and 5:1 can be absolutely delicious (though one wouldn't want to go much drier).

He also is completely anti- Scotch and Champagne cocktails!

So, yeah, when I say that it is the Bible, I mean that not as an Evangelical would. It is certainly not infallible, but it is a great place to start.

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In general, I find Embury more useful for the path and method of exploration it suggests than for any of the specific recipes, most of which I think are not very good in the ratios he suggests.

Yeah, what's the deal with his 8:2:1 ratio for everything? Those are some boozy Daiquiris...

That sounds about right for a Daiquiri to me, maybe cut back on the sugar a bit?


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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In general, I find Embury more useful for the path and method of exploration it suggests than for any of the specific recipes, most of which I think are not very good in the ratios he suggests.

Yeah, what's the deal with his 8:2:1 ratio for everything? Those are some boozy Daiquiris...

That sounds about right for a Daiquiri to me, maybe cut back on the sugar a bit?

2 oz rum, 1/4 oz lime, 1/8 oz rich simple syrup?

I guess mostly I tend to use a bit more lime, like 3/4 oz. Then a heaping teaspoon of caster or bar sugar, whatever that works out to. Not really that far off from Embury.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Actually, Erik, I think it's 2 oz. rum, 1/2 oz. lime, 1/4 oz. syrup. Which isn't actually that unreasonable for a Daiquiri, I suppose, even though I might personally prefer a little more lime and sugar. And David's point about Embury calling for 3:1 simple syrup is well taken as well.

Still, the fact remains that he uses that ratio for pretty much all his sours. And while it might work for a Daiquiri with 3:1 simple, I don't think I'd like a Sidecar that's 2 oz. Cognac, 1/2 oz. lemon juice, 1/4 oz. Cointreau, though I suppose it's worth a try.


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Right. It's mostly in the drinks where the sweetness comes from liqueur that it starts getting ridiculous.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Though I was dying for a pink gin tonight (finishing up Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy post-vacation), I decided to take one for the team.

I don't think I'd like a Sidecar that's 2 oz. Cognac, 1/2 oz. lemon juice, 1/4 oz. Cointreau, though I suppose it's worth a try.

Try it I have. Even with a fairly sweet cognac (Landy VS), it's a puckermouth wonder, with the Cointreau barely noticeable. I like my drinks tart, but this is whack.

So here's the question. In the section on Sidecars, he writes,

Essentially the Side Car is nothing but a Daiquiri with brandy in the place of rum and Cointreau in the place of sugar syrup or orgeat. [Two sentences about citrus.] In making our Side Cars for service at home, therefore, let us stick to the same proportions as are used in our Daiquiris as follows...(129)

The digression about lemon vs lime derails the parallel and reveals the critical error, in which Cointreau can be subbed in for his 3+:1 simple syrup. By the measure of someone with as meticulous a palate as Embury's, this is nuts.

I don't get it. Is it carelessness? Did he drink few Side Cars? The same problem doesn't occur with the next cocktail, the Jack Rose, which I think actually works with 2 oz applejack, 1 oz lemon, 1/2 oz grenadine. (Again, I like 'em tart.) So why this outlier?

To be fair, let's remember that the guy wrote this as well:

As has already been stated, a Sour is simply a combination of citrus juice (lemon or lime or both), sugar or other sweetening, and liquor. As with other drinks, the proportions vary all over the map, according to the personal whims and individual taste of the author of the recipe. [several ratios set up and knocked down.] The truth of the matter is, of course, that the proportion of sweet and sour is best which pleases the taste of the individual drinker, provided, always, that for the aperitif cocktail the final blend with the liquor base will produce a drink that is dry, not sweet. Just how dry, again, is a question of personal preference, but let it never be sweet. (136-7)

Well, it ain't sweet, I'll give him that.

ETA: Very strangely, as my drink warmed during the above writing, it improved. Go figure.


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The same problem doesn't occur with the next cocktail, the Jack Rose, which I think actually works with 2 oz applejack, 1 oz lemon, 1/2 oz grenadine. (Again, I like 'em tart.) So why this outlier?

I rather suspect that he didn't actually drink a lot of these drinks, and so simply stuck with his ratios throughout. The entire section on Sours is rife with unbalanced cocktails. For example, the Appendicitis De Luxe, consisting of 8 parts gin, 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part Grand Marnier. Things such as the basic sours made with 3:1 simple syrup or equally saturated grenadine work out fine. Everything calling for liqueur to balance citrus is a mess.

ETA: Very strangely, as my drink warmed during the above writing, it improved. Go figure.

Our perception of sweetness is inhibited at cold temperatures.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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That makes sense. Maybe he used warm ice....

Now that we've got a handle on the misses, what are the other hits? I'm out walking the dog for a bit but will try whatever's recommended here if I've got the ingredients. If not, I'll try a non-8:2:1 drink.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Thanks to Mud Puddle Books and Adam at the Boston Shaker, I now have a copy of David Embury's incredible Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. It's a decisive, encyclopedic book, filled with compelling discussions -- or, perhaps, more accurately, pronouncements -- of virtually every aspect of the cocktail experience. (It's also dated, not only in regards to available ingredients but also to gender mores and the like; keeping its historical moment in mind, however, even the lengthy diatribes are entertaining.)

Embury is unapologetic about most things, and, to this reader, his self-embrace is most heartening. Indeed, writing in the sad, watery wake of Prohibition's repeal, Embury suggests that it is the obsessive home mixologist, and not the carefree bartender, who must carry forth the spirit of the cocktail. As an obsessive home mixologist, I find this ennobling.

As has been noted in a few places (including the reviews at the Amazon link above), the current edition of the book contains a shocking number of typographical errors. One of the reasons I started the topic was to be able to track any corrections to recipes that we find.

But this book should prompt more discussion posts than errata finger-points. Who's got it? What do you think of it? What have you made from it?

Chris, I got my copy of the book right around the time you started this thread and having been meaning to comment. This is a fantastic book. It would be a valuable resource whether someone is new to making cocktails at home or has been doing it for some time. His highly opinionated editorializing is priceless. (I find myself agreeing with him more than I would like to admit.) I intend to post some other comments, particularly concerning his favored 1:2:8 ratio and how it led me to discover long sought-after adjustments to certain cocktails that I just wasn't "getting", but for now I just want to comment that I tried his recipe for the Hollands Pride cocktail:

2 parts genever (Boomsa Oude - with the understanding that this is not typical of the style)

1 part Italian vermouth (Stock)

dash absinthe (Kübler)

dash simple syrup

dash orange bitters (TBT)

Amazing cocktail. I found myself "chain sipping" it. I did not want to set the glass down. Lightly aromatic and flavorful. I purposely went very easy on the three dashed ingredients. Thus, is was only slightly sweeter than, say, a Manhattan or a Martinez. I want to try an Improved Holland Cocktail, but having reread the entire Genever thread, I realize that Boomsa is not the best choice for that one. A friend who returned from working in NYC earlier in Sept brought me back the Boomsa and a bottle of Carpano Antica Formula. I'd bet that the Hollands Pride would be out of this world with the CAF.


Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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Thanks, brinza. I'll give that a go tonight with Bols, Marteau, and M&R. I've never used the Bitter Truth orange bitters but have Regan's, Fee's, and Angostura. Suggestions?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Thanks, brinza. I'll give that a go tonight with Bols, Marteau, and M&R. I've never used the Bitter Truth orange bitters but have Regan's, Fee's, and Angostura. Suggestions?

I'd go with either the Angostura or the Regan's. It's an aromatic cocktail all around, so probably best to keep with the theme. I'd say start with one small dash and adjust from there.

One thing about Embury is that he plays fair. He'll go on about how stupid and pointless it is (in his opinion) to make cocktails using champagne or Scotch or genever, and then proceed to provide a collection of recipes for such, taking just as much care in presenting the recipes as any other, even to the point of making them sound tempting, right after trashing them! That's one of the many things that makes his book truly unique among cocktail guides and so much fun to read.


Edited by brinza (log)

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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I just tried another item from Embury's book that seems to be unique to this book, although Embury did not develop it himself. It's the Westchester Special, which Embury states is the official drink of the Westchester Country Club. It uses common ingredients, but the uncommon thing about it s that it goes against many sensibilities of good cocktail mixing. It uses dry vermouth with bourbon instead of sweet vermouth, and it uses lime juice with bourbon instead of lemon juice. Furthermore, it uses these simultaneously, confusing the lines between a sour and an aromatic cocktail.

4 parts Bourbon

1 part dry vermouth

1 part lime juice

Actually, it's very good. Better than it looks on paper. Should be in anyone's rotation of aperitifs.

This a certainly a rare recipe. I cannot find this drink in any other source, book or internet, unless these three ingredients appear under some other name.


Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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Definitely a favorite. Love how he encourages you to "roll your own" and states in conclusion that "If you use it as a recipe book it will have failed in its purpose."

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