The Periodic Table of Cocktails by Emma Stokes
Cocktails are a wonderful, delightful and subjective thing. I remember a winter night in Stockholm visiting Anders Sandberg's bar in the basement of Le Rouge with the new Boss, who, it turned out, couldn't cope with a Martini glass. A quick change to a high ball and he enjoyed the drink, before declaring he needed a pub. A silly story, but one that shows that to some, a cocktail is an affront to their manhood. I've had a cocktail out of a Chuck Taylor at Callooh Callay, you can certainly grab that manly. Drinking it, well, you're drinking out of a shoe... But cocktails are "in" (not sure when they were out but there you go) and in this world, when something is "A Thing", you cash in. Cocktail books are everywhere, with most on supermarket shelves being the type for a TGI Friday variety. But Mixology is a craft, it is an art and thankfully, at the other end of the spectrum, there are wonderfully talented people creating guides and histories of the craft. On the reference end of the scale, we have a new one, The Periodic Table of Cocktails by Emma Stokes. These reference books are the sort you can dive into when you want to mix something up or are coming up with something for a party. In Miss Stokes' book, she takes a scientific slant at the drinks on her table and this proves to be a rather ingenious way of looking at cocktails.
In journalistic fairness, I have a confession. I have drank with, been taught by and been thrown out of a bar by the author. All very pleasant experiences, including the last one, which I'm sure I thoroughly deserved. Therefore, critical hat on, I shall not hold back. The book is delightful. Miss Stokes, otherwise known in libating circles as the Gin Monkey, is much smarter than I and her book, the latest in the Periodic Table series, more than amply shows this. Following the principles of the Periodic Table of Elements, the drinks get progressively heavier as you move from left to right along the table. The leftmost column being Martini-style, gin and vodka based drinks, progressing through fruity drinks to the "heavier" bourbon and rum drinks, ending up with creamy and egg white related delectables. At the bottom we have the "Rare Earth" elements, in this case, your "odder" cocktails with beer, over-proof spirits and the wonderfully misunderstood absinthe based drinks. The layout works really well and this coming from someone who remembers dreading that bloody table and thinks that anyone who had the thing on their wall was one element short of said table. Anyway, each "element" is displayed with their corresponding page number and the number of ingredients in drink. The table itself is (despite myself) terribly effective and a great way to help you decide on what to mix up.
Each column in the book has a short introduction explaining the criteria for the column and a few tips and tricks Miss Monkey has picked up along the way. For each of the drinks, you get a run down on the history of the drink, ideas and variations that are not covered elsewhere, an ingredients list and a method section on how to prepare the drink. Each drink and their variations gets a good amount of page space, without over burdening the reader in the minutia of the drink because, lets face it, as wonderful as the history of some of these drinks are, the purpose of this book is to get you to whip one up. Reading about drinking is a thirsty business. It is a fun read that leans heavily on a local London influence which results in nods of approval from me, even if the mystery of "The Green Sh*t" at Casita in Shoreditch is rather undermined with the exact recipe for the Verdita on pages 99-100 in the Bandera section.
On the whole, The Periodic Table of Cocktails is a great little tome on the proper end of the cocktail publications table. Too many of these books can be a tad too snooty and the thing is, drinking cocktails is a fun experience. Many of the names dropped in this book I've met and tasted their creations, the love and attention to detail that these Mixologists have is a credit to a sometimes much maligned profession. Miss Stokes should be proud of her first book, it is an impressive achievement. I say all this not because I know the Monkey in question or am after a free drink. Mind you, never turn your nose up on a free drink, but I think I still owe her money... That aside, I certainly hope our Gin Monkey breaks out her typewriter again, she has a knack for this writing lark.
The Periodic Table of Cocktails by Emma Stokes (follow her on Twitter here) is published by Ebury Press and is available now at all good book sellers and Casita. I'd recomend popping by Casita anyway, it is ace.