Cocktails: Shaken and Stirred
by Douglas Ankrah
Kyle Cathie, 160 pp., $21.95While you and I might think of a cocktail as a fun mixed drink to start a night of merriment, Douglas Ankrah has taken the concept a step further. For him, it is "creativity, skill and flair in a glass." If that makes you think we might be getting into "fussy" territory, well, you'd be right.Ê
Ankrah was something of a bartender cum celebrity in his hometown of London when he decided to start the London Academy of Bartending in 1996. All those students had to have a place to practice, so he opened a bar, appropriately called LAB. It was so successful that he opened a second called Townhouse, which has gone on to be named by the trendsetting Time Out magazine as one of the 10 most stylish things about London.
His book assumes two things: You don't know very much to start with, and you're willing to spend lavish amounts of time and money on preparing your personal flair in a glass. If you fit those two criteria, this book might be for you.
Cocktail classicists are bound to get a few chuckles from drinks like Black Star Liner Martini, a concoction of chocolate and coffee liqueurs, simple syrup, and espresso. Sounds yummy, but a martini? On the other hand, Ankrah makes some spot-on recommendations for drinks, like choosing Buffalo Trace bourbon for his Kentucky Iced Tea. And he even pays attention to tradition, though in odd ways. Take his Bisonite. It's made with Zubrowka, a Polish vodka that is infused with Bison grass (it's better than it sounds). In Poland, they drink it half-and-half with apple juice. Ankrah's recipe mixes the Zubrowka with apple juice, passion fruit syrup, peach bitters (good luck finding those!), and lemon juice. That's a nice riff on a traditional drink.
There is a chapter on traditional drinks, and his recipes even the Margarita are exactly right. We also get a chapter on nice bar foods and another on nonalcoholic drinks, all named after one of James Bond's heroines. As you might have guessed, the shaken and stirred theme refers to 007's favorite martini.
The book seems a little full of itself, a little too intent on being trendy. I half expected it to have pictures of mostly naked models holding the drinks while leaning on some exotic sports car. Drinks for the Maxim boy in your life! Still, intrepid drinkers with the temperament, time, and resources can find a lot to like. You just might have to dig for it.