Boozy book review: Signature cocktails by Amanda Schuster

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Amanda Schuster photo by Gabi Porter

First New York, and now the world! Former Alcohol Professor editor-in-chief Amanda Schuster’s first two books New York Cocktails and Drink Like a Local New York covered where and what to drink in the Big Apple. Her latest work, Signature Cocktails (Phaidon, October 4, 2023) brings iconic cocktails from bars around the world to your home, wherever that may be.

Signature Cocktails features 200 recipes over 430 pages (because each one gets its own image, beautifully photographed as expected from Phaidon Press), organized by date of creation. It begins with the Athol Brose (with an origin story dating to 1475) and ends with the Phaidon 100, a cocktail created in 2023 by Agostino Perrone of London’s Connaught Bar to celebrate the publisher’s anniversary.

What is a signature cocktail?

Schuster defines a signature cocktail as, “a bespoke drink that expresses the nature of the time, person, or place for which it was created.” That includes classics like the Singapore Sling from the Raffles Hotel, created in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, disco drinks like the Lemon Drop from Henry Africa’s in San Francisco sometime in the 1970s, and the modern take on the Dole Whip from bar Lullaby in New York, created in 2021. There are Martini variations including the Vesper, tropical drinks including the Blue Hawaii, and news-making stunt drinks like the Bone Dry Martini from London’s White Lyan that included “bone tincture” made from chicken bones and phosphoric acid.

Each drink is labelled with its inventor, city and bar, and year of birth when known, and is described in several paragraphs with stories about the cocktail’s inspiration, origin, and/or its influence in the world at large. I’ve read a lot about drink history, including the history of many of these cocktails, but learned something new on nearly every entry in Signature Cocktails. (I contributed some research to this book but even on the drinks I suggested Schuster has managed to dig up new intel.)

The stories & the personalities

Seapea Fizz. Photography Andy Sewell (page 119). 1930s, Paris, France, Frank Meier

These include the story of the once-again popular Espresso Martini, famously created by London bartender Dick Bradsell in 1983 at the request of a model to “Give me a drink that will wake me up, then f**k me up.” Bradsell is one of the very few bartenders credited with more than one drink in the book (he also invented the Bramble), along with legends like Harry MacElhone (Brandy Alexander, White Lady) of Ciro’s in London and the author of Harry of Ciro’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails from 1923, and Frank Meier (Mimosa, Seapea Fizz) of the Ritz in Paris and author of The Artistry of Mixing Drinks from 1936. I found this information by looking at one of the book’s five indexes of drinks listed by bartender. Others are by alcohol type or ingredients, by cocktail name, by bar, and by country. This leaves plenty of options for ways to peruse the drinks and to find them when you can’t remember in what year Sam Ross created the Penicillin (the answer is 2005 at Milk & Honey in New York).

Negroni. Photography_ Andy Sewell (page 83) 1919, Florence, Italy, Count Camillo Negroni _ Fosco Scarselli

A bar bucket list

Many of the drinks included are so iconic that people make pilgrimages to have one at the source – a Negroni Sbagliato from Bar Basso in Milan, the Gin Basil Smash from Le Lion in Hamburg, the Duke’s Martini at the Duke’s Hotel in London. Signature Cocktails may serve as inspiration for a bucket list of bars to visit. You’d be extremely well-traveled by the time you hit them all, as cocktails listed were created everywhere from Argentina (Cynar Julep) to the Virgin Islands (Bushwacker) and other nations all around the globe.

But for those of us who can’t go to the birthplace of every cocktail (and you really can’t – many of the bars no longer exist), a recipe is included for each. These range in difficulty from the simple rum-sugar-lime combo in the classic Daiquiri (1898, Cuba) to drinks with specialty syrups, infusions, and other ingredients like smoked pomelo salt (2018, New York) or clarified tteokbokki punch (Seoul, 2020).

Signature Cocktails is a global survey of the world’s most iconic drinks, and also provides the directions with which to bring them home to your own bar.

This article originally appeared on Alcohol Professor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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