Mr. Boston: Official Bartender's Guide (Mr. Boston: Official Bartender's & Party Guide)

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Since 1935, Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide has recorded countless cocktail recipes and presents them in this handy reference guide for the professional and home bartender alike.  Such longevity and experience provide Mr. Boston with the authority to describe how the cocktail was created, why it may have transformed over the last century, and how the cocktail should be properly served. 
More than just preserving classic recipes, Mr. Boston also emphasizes tradition by reminding home and professional bartenders that the recipe for mixology success is simplicity.  By early definition, Mr. Boston points out that any spirit with sweet, bitters, and water forms a cocktail.  However, an accurate recipe is key to achieving a pleasing balance of flavors.  Such recipes start by calling for a quality spirit, accurately measured. Careful bartenders then add a touch of sweetness to this base, but are sure to not over power the spirit.  To compliment and brighten this mix, an appropriate bitter and/or sour component is added.  Finally, the bartender shakes or stirs the mix with crushed ice which then melts into the drink to both mellow the flavors and chill the cocktail.  And thus, a properly mixed cocktail is formed.  The result of this attention to detail is a drink that is cool and refreshing, with evenly balanced flavors, just as it should be.

Compare this simplicity, illustrated by Mr. Boston, to today's cocktail experience and the need for this book becomes apparent.  Nowadays, spirits are not carefully measured out and are commonly of poor quality.  Commercial sweet or sour flavorings frequently overpower the natural taste of the spirit.  And at times, necessary components are left out altogether.  Final products are sloppily served in sticky glasses, on wet napkins, and may even be of such ridiculously large quantities that one cannot help but feel embarrassed for ordering these drinks to begin with.  These unfavorable experiences are not only the result of careless mixing, but also of apathetic drinkers who merely accept what is served to them or do not know how a particular drink should taste.  Such circumstances, therefore, underscore the need for the authoritative presence of Mr. Boston to help return the cocktail to its respected and rightful place in the dining and entertaining world. 

As to format, the book can be informally divided into three sections, which makes finding your recipe of choice very convenient.  The first general section is bar basics, which, of course, covers such topics as tools, equipment, measurements and the like.  The second section is the recipes-by-spirit section and is pretty self explanatory—a thumb tabbed list of recipes organized by principle spirit.  From Brandy to Whisky, the reader will easily find scores of recipes to choose from.  The final section of the book is recipes-by-type, where the reader will find recipes within chapters such as frozen drinks, liqueurs, wine mixed drinks, and even non-alcoholic beverages.  But no matter what kind of drink you are searching for, you should be able to quickly find anything you need.

While the format makes recipe searching convenient, some readers might consider a few other features of the book unfavorable.  First, in its attempts at preserving the classic cocktail, Mr. Boston publishes what it considers the original recipes of many cocktails.  Such recipes, therefore, come in much smaller portions than those served today and at times are mixed with vastly different components.  Second, since the recipes do not include the use of pre-made mixes, many recipes will call for less common household ingredients, like bitters.  And third, without pre-made mixes, careful measuring is now even more essential to accurately reproduce many of the cocktails listed. But exactly how much is "a dash"?

Thankfully, these specific features of Mr. Boston are relatively negligible, and easily overcome.  For instance, while the cocktail sizes may be smaller, the component ratios are nonetheless accurate—meaning that to increase quantity, simply increase components according to the ratios given.  Also, as to cocktail recipes that do not reflect today's standards, like the martini recipe calling for gin instead of vodka, the bar basics section of the book teaches the newcomer all about the evolution of drinks.  So while the vodka martini recipe is not specifically included in this edition, the newcomer should instinctively know that gin can replace vodka.  Further, while ingredients such as bitters are not necessarily found in most home kitchens, they are readily obtained from a well stocked liquor or grocery store.  And finally, as to accurate measuring, Mr. Boston includes a useful measurements table to help the novice achieve the right amounts—e.g. a dash of bitters is equivalent to six drops, or 1/6 of a teaspoon.  Certainly there will be additional drawbacks to this book that some readers will find.  However, Mr. Boston has kept them to a minimum.   

Overall, then, this book is a welcome addition to any kitchen or bar library.  Its small dimensions makes it an excellent quick-reference tool to have around—approximately only 7"x4"x1" in size.  If you are a newcomer to mixing, this book is a wonderful introduction to mixing drinks and learning about cocktails.  You will learn just enough about cocktail history to be inspired, and are given more than enough recipes to keep you busy.  If, on the other hand, you are an experienced home bartender or professional, this book will provide you with a new perspective on various recipes, and maybe even encourage you to mix some of your old standby cocktails just a bit differently.  So, if you do not currently own a cocktail book with a broad assortment of recipes, or you simply desire to learn an older version of some classics, then this is the book for you!
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