Welcome to the Boozy Bookshelf, in which we profile essential reads for people with a keen or professional interest in adult beverages.
Full confession: I am not a bartender and I barely know how to make a cocktail. A Negroni (equal parts!) and a Manhattan (2-1-2.. or something) are the cocktails that I feel someone confident going to when my lips are parched and my bartender husband is not home. Well, at least that was the case until I picked up Adam McDowell’s Drinks: A User’s Guide. Before reading this book, my eyes would gloss over as Josh excitedly told me whatever cool spirit or cocktail fact/thing/tip he had learned that day. The man is an encyclopedia of knowledge. He is constantly reading and learning and actually retains all of that information which is a wonderful thing. But my brain is build differently, I need to take in the information slow. I need to learn the basics of what I should know first before diving in and learning all of the details. Drinks is the book just for that.
This beautiful book goes through everything that you need to know for when it comes to drinks of the alcoholic variety. It starts with how to drink – the do’s and don’ts of it. A modern day version of the etiquette of drinking. From there, it dives into all of the categories from beer to wine to sake to spirits – all of them. McDowell tells you the basics of how each is made, how to drink it and then what else you can do with it, including some great recipes – both complex and simple. He offers recommendations of specific brands to try out for each category and yet manages to do so without being biased towards any specific company. It’s informative to just the right level – enough information to understand what it is that makes, say, cognac cognac, without giving too much information to then make us (people like me!) confused. And along the way, it’s funny. Witty. Hilarious. I read a great portion of this book while on a plane and I could not help but laugh out loud on a number of occasions. It’s a fun read and it made me want to try everything.
A great aspect of Drinks is the beautiful illustrations that show up along the way. They help guide the reader into a deeper understanding of just what the heck McDowell is talking about. Before reading Drinks, I actually had no idea how those shaker tins worked, what angle they needed to be at and how the heck you got them apart after the shaking was done. After reading Drinks, I feel a little more confident in my understanding of this whole booze world. While I may never be a bartender, reading this book allowed me to learn more about what I am consuming and it has given me a push to be a little more creative with what it is that I make at home (who said I need that bartender husband to hydrate me anyways?!). Throughout the book, McDowell is encouraging. In the wine section he says “This is the secret to everyday wine drinking: Keep going. Keep learning. Keep trying wine until it doesn’t seem like a stranger at the table. Figure out what you enjoy, and how you like to enjoy it.” The same could be said for scotch and gin and for all of the things. Keep learning and keep trying.
All in all, Drinks is fabulous. It’s a keeper. It’s a book that ought to be on the bookshelf of all cocktail enthusiasts/nerds. It’s my new go-to guide for when I have a cocktail idea or a booze question or when guests are coming over and I just do not know what to serve.