These craft cocktails are for the books
William Faulkner had mint juleps, Dorothy Parker had whiskey sours, and Ernest Hemingway was so associated with the daiquiri that hundreds of recipes carry his name. Serious writers have always endorsed serious barcraft, but we wanted to turn the tables. To celebrate summer reading, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to create a cocktail based on their favorite book. Our crew did not disappoint, creating libations inspired by everything from Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham to Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo. Serve them at your next book club or literary salon. They are sure to be in your good books.
Michael Sanders, Backbeat
Book: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Cocktail: A Heartbreaking Work of George T. Staggering Genius (an Old Fashioned made with rare, George T. Stagg Bourbon)
"While perhaps not my favorite book of all time, it is definitely one of note, and one that I feel had an impact on me personally. Much like the whiskey, it is a raw and very authentic expression. When these rare and limited bourbon releases come out, of course, the feeling is you drink them straight, never in a cocktail. My opinion, however, was if this whiskey is to be one of the best, shouldn't it make the best cocktail? Therefore, I just took a standard Old Fashioned recipe and added this exceptional bourbon. It is very high proof, bracing and unexpected for a cocktail. Many of these elements are in this book as well. A gritty and at times vulnerable memoir that can be both gut-wrenching and playful at the same time. Perhaps this cocktail could be in a 'Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Bourbon,' much like Eggers writes the same of the enjoyment of his book."
1 raw sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces George T. Stagg Bourbon
1 lemon peel
1 orange peel
Put sugar cube in a rocks glass and add 3 dashes Angostura bitters. Enough to soak the cube. Muddle until sugar is crushed but not dissolved in bitters. Add 2 ounces bourbon and ice. Stir until thoroughly chilled. Express a lemon peel and orange peel over the drink and add peels to glass.
Chris McClish, Juniper
Book: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Cocktail: The Castle and Republic
"I just read [it] again recently. It's a nonfiction book that takes place during the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and juxtaposes that against the story of H.H. Holmes, America's 'first' serial killer. Went with a boozy Chicago gin cocktail with Malört (a classic Chicago wormwood/gentian spirit), Amaro Meletti (Italian amaro), and citrus bitters."
2 ounces Koval dry gin
½ ounce Letherbee Distillers Bësk
½ ounce Amaro Meletti
2 dashes Hella Bitters Citrus
Stir ingredients. Serve up with a lemon swath.
Aisling Gammill, Whisler's
Book: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Cocktail: Ode to Peter Keating
"[The Fountainhead's] Peter Keating is written as the villain, but he is actually the best person in the book. Throughout his life he always puts the wishes of others above following his heart. He originally wants to be an artist and go to art school in France. Instead, he does the 'practical' thing and goes to architect school. He makes similar choices throughout his life and ends up becoming a horrible, broken shell of a person. In my life, I have always used Peter Keating as an inspiration. When faced with difficult choices, I ask myself whether I am following my heart or whether I will end up like Peter Keating. The lessons of his tragic story have shaped my life and helped me to always follow a path that is genuine and true to myself. This cocktail is made of French and French-inspired ingredients, and the flavors invoke that of an impressionist painting, maybe like the kind Mr. Keating would have painted had he followed his heart."
1 ½ ounces cognac
½ ounce crème de violette
¼ ounce Suze bitters
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
ounce lavender tincture (in perfume bottle)
Stir cognac, violette, Suze, and Peychaud's. Strain into coupe, and spray lavender tincture over the top.
Travis Deakins, Gibson Street Bar
Book: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
Cocktail: The Culling Song
"The 'culling song' is a [chant that] ... causes death with poisonous words. I created a cocktail, using potent liquors and sweet Lillet to mask its devastation, based off of this quote: 'In a world where vows are worthless. Where making a pledge means nothing. Where promises are made to be broken, it would be nice to see words come back into power.'"
2 ounces Bulleit Rye
½ ounce green Chartreuse
¼ ounce Lillet
Stir ingredients and serve up in a martini glass with a Pernod Anise rinse. Garnish with a spanked sage leaf.
Jed Thompson, Mean Eyed Cat
Book: The Virginian by Owen Wister
Cocktail: The Virginian
"It's a quiet and complex cocktail that expresses a unique presence from the first sip to the last drop. Much like the main character in the novel."
¾ ounce bourbon
½ ounce Campari
splash of sweet vermouth
Build the cocktail in a mixing tin with ice, stir, then strain into a rocks glass that is filled with ice, and twist the orange peel on top.
Justin Elliott, The Townsend
Book: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Cocktail: The Samizdat
"Reading a book, to me (admittedly a more-or-less semi-retired writer myself) isn't a process that feels like it can yield a lot of direct translation into cocktail form. (I do tend to do some drinking when I read, though.) The thing is, I love reading. I love reading for all the reasons the posters in the middle school library tell you you ought to read. It's transportative. It's transportative in much the same way that many of the world's finest spirits are transportative. I think about books I've read and I can recall being transported to the world of the book while I read it. And then, in the same moment, I'm transported to where I was in life when I was reading it. And then I think about what I was drinking while I was reading it. There's a terroir to memory, maybe, I guess.
"When I read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest I had just moved to New York City. I was living in Queens with an out-of-work actress and an out-of-work dancer. We lived on the third floor of a three-family home owned by Mr. Kim, whose family made a lot of kimchi at a point in my life where I really didn't understand the joys of kimchi. I tended bar at the same terrible Texas-style barbecue restaurant where the actress was a server and the dancer was a hostess, but that's definitely a story for another day. We never had any money, mostly because there wasn't a lot of money to be made slinging aggressively mediocre knockoff Applebee's to the disinterested citizens of Long Island City, Queens. Go figure. But once in a while I would save up a couple of bucks or maybe even have a decent shift and I then I would go to the bulletproof window at the liquor store around the corner from our place and ask for the fanciest thing that I could imagine – a bottle of Scotch.
"And I spent that whole fall and winter reading Infinite Jest. This was back when I still thought I had the disposition to be a writer and I just melted into nothingness as DFW scrambled my damn brainbox with his 1,000-plus pages of interweaving narratives and another 200 confounding pages of footnotes. And the writing. Goddamnit, that writing. I'd never seen anything like it. It was colloquial but it was also inventing and codifying its own neo-colloquialisms. It spoke to the deepest, purest human experiences but it treated them like that was sci-fi. It was heartfelt in a way that I'm not sure I could have hoped to fully understand at 22 years old, and it was wise in a way I'm certain I'm still decades away from understanding.
"And I drank Scotch. I drank it on the rocks or I drank it with seltzer or maybe even ginger ale. But it was definitely Scotch that I was drinking while I read this book. This drink should taste familiar, transportative. This particular Islay whisky is extremely terroir-driven and young. There is a sense of the grain and a sense of the place. This drink should also feel new, and full of wonder. The chamomile liqueur provides an electric, almost Technicolor edge to the Scotch and the salinity of the Topo Chico amplifies everything. The grapefruit peel, too, adds an additional degree of freshness, leaving what one might expect to be a heavier, more autumnal cocktail tasting perfectly at home on any summer reading list."
1 ½ ounces Bruichladdich Rockside Farm Islay Barley 2007 Vintage
¾ ounce Cointreau Liqueur de Camomille
4 ounces Topo Chico
Build in a Collins glass and add ice cubes. Give a quick and gentle stir. Garnish with a thick-cut grapefruit peel.
Justin Lavenue, The Roosevelt Room
Book: Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Cocktail: Ahab's Odyssey
"Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick in 1851, only a short while after the creation of London dry gin and at the end of punch's reign as the world's most popular mixed beverage. The book is considered one of the Great American Novels and a leading work of American Romanticism. In it, Melville details Captain Ahab's headstrong quest for revenge on the rare, white sperm whale, Moby Dick, who took his leg on their last run-in. My cocktail takes its drinker on a journey through what members of the Pequod's crew would have experienced while on their hunt for the white whale. Gin and sherry were the preferred libations of the ship's epicurean captain, while rum (either drunk straight or in punch) was the sailor's preferred libation. A popular sweetening agent used to make many classic punches in that day was capillaire, which is made from the dried leaves of maidenhair fern and brightened with orange-flower water. In fact, capillaire can be found in a number of Jerry Thomas' punch recipes in his writings of How to Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon Vivant's Companion, written only a decade after Moby Dick. Next, in order to stay healthy, crew members would drink a citrus cordial to prevent scurvy and eat plenty of salt to kill bacteria, the majority of which was kept in wood barrels that leached wine tannins over time. Along their voyage, the crew finds riches in the belly of another dead sperm whale, in the form of ambergris, which is a substance produced in their digestive system that is usually regurgitated by the whale and floats at sea for many years before being discovered or washing ashore. During that time, the substance ages and becomes incredibly musky, even a little sweet. During Ahab's day, it was utilized in many classic punch recipes for its strong, sweet scent, but today it is used primarily as a fixative by many perfumers. Sadly, in the end, Ahab's steadfast hunt for the whale proves fatal for both him and his crew, and after a long skirmish with the beast, they are dragged down into the depths of the ocean in a whirlpool created by the their own ship, leaving only Ishmael, the novel's narrator, alive to tell their tale."
2 ounces Bombay Sapphire gin
½ ounce white grapefruit-lime cordial
½ ounce cubeb berry-infused manzanilla sherry
¼ ounce capillaire syrup
4 drops Bolivian rose-salt water
4 drops wine tannin
Shake well, double-strain into a snifter glass, garnish with a grapefruit peel "whirlpool" (a long peel twisted up into a spiral and placed into the cocktail, resembling a whirlpool), and place on a coaster sprayed with "Captain's Musk."
Miguel Lopez, Isla
Book: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Cocktail: Pilon's Plight
"In Tortilla Flat, Danny and his friends come into a windfall of good fortune. To celebrate, the friends imbibe what wine they can, enjoying all the benefits of life with those they are close to. But life's benefits are fleeting for those who are not born into the world of the privileged. The treasure comes from death and can only be satisfied with loss. The inheritance is lost to fire but not before the good life can be tasted. The cocktail takes all the great things of the novela: blood ('sangria'), life by the sea (agricole rum), the sweet things (honey rum), and the flame that destroyed the gift. Meant to be enjoyed with friends (can be served in a pitcher)."
½ ounce honey rum
¼ ounce agricole rum
½ ounce Banane du Brésil
½ ounce Combier triple sec
3 ounces peppery red wine
Combine all ingredients. Top with Topo Chico, flamed orange garnish.
Josh Loving, Small Victory
Book: The Gentleman's Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book Or, Around the World With Jigger, Beaker, and Flask by Charles H. Baker
Cocktail: Cleared for Landing
"Yes, the name is long and flamboyant – just like the recipes and the vibrant prose Baker includes with each entry. He describes the time, the place, and who he met along the way while traveling the world, self-exiled from Prohibition-era America and in search of more convivial and open-minded drinking establishments across the globe. The book reads more like a travel anthology or a midcentury narrative authored by Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway's dream child. Our original, accompanying recipe was inspired by the Pan-American Clipper, a Calvados cocktail authored by Baker in the 1946 edition of his book."
1 dash absinthe
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce grenadine
¾ ounce Campari
1 ½ ounces Laird's bonded apple brandy
Shake with ice, strain, and serve up.
Drew Jerdan, Drink.Well
Book: Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
Cocktail: Death of Comala
"Pedro Páramo is set in the fictional town of Comala, which is likely modeled on the real village of Comala, Colima, in Southwestern Mexico, and follows the narrator Juan Preciado's search for his father, the titular Pedro, after the death of his mother. The real-life Comala is a lovely town surrounded by papaya, almond, and lime orchards, but the fictional Comala is literally a ghost town, populated by those whose lives were destroyed by Pedro's control over the community. Juan eventually dies in Comala and is drawn forever into the intrigues of the ghosts of his family. The cocktail features both agricultural products from real-life Comala as well as ingredients intended to recall the desolation of the fictional village (Tequila Cabeza's and Salers' earthy, dusty elements), and the Fire & Damnation Bitters serve both to enhance the other flavors in the cocktail and to underline the implication that Comala is not only Juan's birthplace but also a kind of hell into which the peripheral characters have fallen and into which he is dragged. The laurel leaf is both a visual and olfactory counterpoint to the cocktail and a reminder of the first visual image Juan experiences in Comala."
1 ½ ounces Tequila Cabeza
½ ounce cumin-infused papaya purée
½ ounce lime juice
½ ounce orgeat
½ ounce Salers Gentiane Apéritif
2 dashes Bad Dog Bar Craft Fire & Damnation Bitters
Shake all ingredients vigorously and serve over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a cracked bay laurel leaf.
Shaun Meglen, Péché
Book : Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Cocktail : Green Eggs and Ham
"Beyond the playful characters and easy reading, [Green Eggs and Ham] is a reminder to all of us to try something new. I wouldn't have ventured as far into the cocktail world had it not been for the persistence of Sam-I-Am. We as bartenders have to constantly remind ourselves and our guests to try something new; you just might like it. With that I bring you a reimagined whiskey sour ...."
white of one egg
¾ ounce lemon juice
1 ½ ounces bacon-washed bourbon
½ ounce green Chartreuse
¾ ounce simple syrup
green mezcal (mezcal with a few drops of green food coloring)
Separate egg white from yolk. Add lemon juice, bacon-washed bourbon, green Chartreuse, and simple syrup. Dry shake to emulsify egg white. Add ice and shake again. Strain into chilled coupe, and top off with green mezcal.
Adrian Braun, Cantine
Book: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Cocktail: Tesseract Sour
"When I was 8, I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time and have every summer since. As I've grown older, it has become a quick morsel compared to some of the heavier reading I've come to appreciate – but its fables and adventures still ring true today. Meg's father was working on a computer program to fold spacetime when he disappears from their family home. Shortly after, Meg and her friends are visited by cosmic beings appearing as human women that call themselves Witches. The Witches have the power to fold space with their minds, creating a wrinkle they call a Tesseract [that allows] Meg and the gang to travel vast distances in the blink of an eye. And so they set off to rescue Meg's father. My favorite character in the book is an alien dubbed Aunt Beast by Meg. She has no eyes or mouth, communicates telepathically, and is covered in soft fur that smells of purple flowers. [She] teaches Meg about the shortcomings of spoken language. For the cocktail, I first make a hybrid acidified citrus juice. This is the sci-fi backdrop of the book. My liquors are Strega, which means "witch" in Italian. It's bright, lemony, and herbaceous. Then a bison-grass vodka represents Meg and her earthling friends. A few drops of lavender bitters creates the purple floral aroma of Aunt Beast's fur. Shaken and served up it is a mouthpuckeringly tart elixir that reminds me of the candy sours I found so appealing when I discovered the book, against a floral and complex background I have come to appreciate in adulthood."
1 ounce hybrid acidified citrus juice: ½ liter orange juice, ½ liter grapefruit juice, 26 grams citric acid, 26 grams malic acid
1 ounce Liquore Strega
1 ounce Zubrówka bison-grass vodka
2 dashes Bar Keep lavender bitters
Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with a scoop of ice. Vigorously shake for 4-6 seconds, then strain into a coupe.
Brian Floyd, Sourced Craft Cocktails
Book: The Reivers by William Faulkner
Cocktail: Whiskey Skiffer
"What comes to mind is [the] most Mississippi writer, William Faulkner, and my most Mississippi cocktail, the Whiskey Skiffer. Faulkner's later book, The Reivers, is a picaresque, a madcap [story] of outsized characters. Skiffer Creek is a long, shaded, snaking cold-water creek in southern Mississippi full[y] dotted with cool sand banks and swimming with freshwater eels. I swam in this creek, as did my dad and his sisters and their father. Their ridiculous stories of that creek, the namesake of this strong cocktail, remind me of Faulkner spinning a tale. This is a brawny, earthy cousin to the Manhattan."
1 ounce Rittenhouse Rye
1 ounce Dolin Rouge
1 ounce Cynar
1 dash mole bitters
Serve on a rock or stirred and up. Garnish with an orange twist.