The end of Drynuary—that post-holiday liver cleanse supposedly practiced by one in seven Americans—offers the chance of renewal and the opportunity to ask ourselves the big question: What am I going to drink next?
Perhaps you are stuck in a rut, wanting to move on from the vodka sodas you've been downing for the last decade (low in calories, for sure, but boring as hell). Or maybe you realized it's no longer freshman year and it's time to move past the Long Island Iced Tea. Or maybe you are a novice when it comes to the bar—willing to try anything but completely aimless. You might order an Espresso Martini followed by a rum and Coke and cap the night off with a Bloody Mary. (These people really do exist.)
My own drinking has evolved, from the Tom Collins (yes, when I was a freshman) to the whiskey and soda to the vodka soda until I eventually discovered the classics: the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan, and the love of my life, the Martini, preferably Plymouth gin up with olives. But certainly there are other fine quaffs to be had.
In short, we could all use some guidance, and Pour Me Another: 250 Ways to Find Your Favorite Drink is just the guide we need. Author J.M. Hirsch opens with a premise: "Start with what you know. Discover what you love." Divided into chapters by spirit—gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, and agave (meaning tequila and mezcal)—the book offers an array of recipes along with interrelated suggestions. "The result is an almost Socratic exploration" of the spirits, "all grounded in history." He calls his book a "choose your own cocktail adventure."
For instance, if you like a refreshing gin and tonic, check out the Bee's Knees on page 52. Being fond of the Manhattan, I turned to page 180 and made a similarly sweet and spicy Vieux Carré. Fans of the Margarita should give the Daiquiri on page 183 a try—that would be a real Daiquiri and not the frozen kind, which can be found on page 203.
Indeed, Hirsch is no bar snob. Pour Me Another features recipes for the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri, Whiskey Sour, and even the Long Island Iced Tea, which he calls "the trash can of cocktails." He does aim for more refined iterations of these drinks. His Sex on the Beach, for example, "ditches the peach schnapps, because, well, I'm not 18."
Pour Me Another is filled with such funny asides. The gin-based Old Pal "has had more costume changes than Liberace." (Hirsch, a James Beard Award winner, is the editorial director of Milk Street.) It also contains some fairly obscure drinks, such as the Crimean Cup à la Marmora, named for an Italian general. But unlike the Italian Army, this rum-cognac concoction is a winner.
Of course to make the most of this book, readers should have the essentials—Hirsch devotes the last chapter to the necessary bar ware. Aside from the basic spirits, it's also useful to have sweet and dry vermouths, simple syrup (easy to make), Bénédictine, absinthe, and orange liqueur (e.g., Grand Marnier or Cointreau). Most of these are easy to find at your liquor store, but others may be harder to come by (Yellow Chartreuse, Falernum, celery bitters).
To be sure, Hirsch has his quirks. He likes adding a few granules of salt into the mix, even in a Cuba Libré and Espresso Martini. He suggests using coconut water instead of cream of coconut in a White Russian. Likewise he replaces the coconut cream in a Piña Colada with coconut milk to avoid the "cloying weight of so much sugar." But sometimes all we want is a boozy milkshake.
You may also find some of the recipes to be too involved. The Fog Cutter, to name one, includes white rum, aged rum, orange juice, orgeat syrup, gin, cognac, dry sherry, pisco, agave syrup, pineapple juice, Angostura bitters, a few granules of salt, a sprig of mint, and a cherry. Not that we should blame Hirsch—the drink was invented by Trader Vic Bergeron in the 1940s, just prior to the Tiki craze. (I imagine most bartenders today have no idea how to make a Fog Cutter. If they did, they'd probably kill you for ordering it.)
I do admire Hirsch's willingness to go bold: His gin and tonic ratio is practically 1:1. Likewise, his French 75 isn't a splash of gin into the champagne but 2:3.
My favorite recipe in this book is The Journalist, invented by Harry MacElhone in the 1920s: In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth, 1/2 ounce orange liqueur, dash of lemon juice, dash of Angostura bitters, shake with ice, strain into a coupe. "Be warned," Hirsch writes, "this one is a silent killer." As a journalist, I had to fact-check this for myself. And since I don't like working with fractions, I doubled the measurements and made two batches. Verdict: It is a silent killer.
Potency aside, it's just fun to make cocktails—a lab experiment in which you get to drink the potion—and Pour Me Another is a fun book and worthy addition to your shelf. (My copy sits alongside Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology, Kingsley Amis's Everyday Drinking, David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, and a history of vodka.)
Pour Me Another: 250 Ways to Find Your Favorite Drink
by J.M. Hirsch
Voracious, 303 pp., $27