In 1862, Jerry Thomas published the very first book of recipes for bartenders. It was a smashing success, and was followed soon afterwards with not only multiple reprints, but with countless authors of copycat attempts to cash in on this new book classification. But Mr. Thomas had already beat them all to the punch, his was the first, for many decades, all of the rest would simply be "me too" collections of countless recipes. Honestly, Mr. Thomas's book really wasn't a great book; it showed little in the way of insight or culinary genius. It didn't really explain what constituted a great mixed drink, or a great bartender for that matter. But it was the first, and for that reason it was a groundbreaking book that is remembered and cherished to this day.
Over the years that followed, there have been a few books of note that have come out and broken the mold set forth by Mr. Thomas. Two that perhaps come most readily to mind are "The Gentleman's Companion" by Charles Baker (Currently in reprint under the title "Jigger, Beaker, & Glass"), which presented more of a literary travelogue adventure to follow Mr. Baker's journey's around the world and how he would encounter various libations along the way. The other is "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks" by David Embury, in which a non-bartender painstakingly takes us through a firm collection of classic cocktails and carefully discusses his own opinions on how to make each of them in the best form possible.
These days it seems that the main reason to purchase yet another cocktail book is simply to make sure that you have at your disposal whatever the latest and trendiest recipes might be. Most of the available books are little more then just a rehash of what has come before. However, in The Joy of Mixology Gary Regan breaks that mold and presents us with a very enlightening examination that focuses more on "what" a cocktail is as opposed to simply providing us with a stale and well worn recipe for how to make one.
To set the groundwork for his investigation, Mr. Regan starts out with an extremely thorough treatment on the history and evolution of cocktails and mixed drinks. After quickly brushing aside the oft-asked question regarding the origins of the word "cocktail", he dives into the real meat of the matter, which is as to how the concept and construction of the cocktail evolved over the last two hundred years.
The broad and scattered history of the cocktail is important to understand, because it then later plays a role in helping to better understand one of the first true classifications of cocktails that has ever been seen in print. While most modern bartenders might simply break things down into Martinis, Sours, and Highballs (and few probably think things through even that far), Mr. Regan outlines a structure that includes no fewer then 26 different categories, including four different ones for sours.
While what might at first appear to be a meager collection of around 350 different recipes, upon closer examination you will find that by truly understanding these recipes, and the categories in which they belong, you will be able to produce for yourself drinks of higher caliber and quality then you can find elsewhere. You'll also find that by understanding these recipes, you will be well prepared to quickly master any new recipes that you might encounter from other sources.
The Joy of Mixology also includes chapters which details some of the philosophies of how to be a really great bartender as well as many of the basic principles and processes for how to properly approach and achieve the elusive "balance" of a well crafted drink.
As useful as the occasional "Wad-O-Recipes" books might be to add to our libraries, it is indeed heartening to see something like The Joy of Mixology, which can help both the budding, and experienced mixologist better understand and appreciate the art of a well crafted cocktail.
To learn more about what Gary Regan, and his wife Mardee are up to these days, you can stop by their website at http://www.ArdentSpirits.com