Pros: a great mix of both classic and new cocktails inspired by New Orleans
Cons: like so many cocktail books it makes you want to spend a lot of money expanding your bar
While I have been involved in the restaurant world since I was a kid, I consider attending culinary school the start of my professional career. As such, my first "professional" job was at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. And it was here, in New Orleans that I had my first taste of "cocktail" culture. Sure, as a college student, I did more than my fair share of drinking, but it was beer, Margaritas, Whiskey Sours, and a whole host of poorly made drinks. We weren't into quality, it was quantity that mattered mostly...that, and how quickly we could get a good buzz going.
Of course, there are plenty of those kinds of drinks in New Orleans, but step away from Bourbon St., and the host of bars that cater to the college crowd, and like I did, discover a plethora of bars where quality trumps quantity, where bartenders take pride in crafting well balanced cocktails. This was the early 1990's so the cocktail craze hadn't hit its stride yet, but in New Orleans that didn't matter. The city has a long history with the cocktail and even back in the 90's, lost in a sea of fruity rum and vodka based fruit drinks, there were bartenders mixing up great cocktails, using only the finest and freshest ingredients.
Jump forward to today, and the bartenders of New Orleans have taken their game to a whole new level, mixing up, not only, excellent versions of the classics but constantly creating new drinks and variations on those classics.
To get a real sense of the cocktail scene in New Orleans just pick up "New Orleans Classic Cocktails-Spirited Recipes" by Kit Wohl. It may not be as good as a trip to the Crescent City but it's the next best thing. The book contains 60+ recipes, divided into 6 chapters with names such as, "Big Easy Specialties," "Traditions," "Eye Openers," and various others. As expected from a book titled "New Orleans Classic Cocktails," you will find recipes for those great New Orleans classics such as the Sazerac, the Brandy Milk Punch, the Hurricane and Ramos Gin Fizz, as well as the proper way to make and serve Absinthe, the old school way (and is there really and other?). With New Orleans' deep roots in tradition, you'll also discover a number of recipes for other classic cocktails that don't often get the publicity they deserve, such as the Stinger, Pisco Sour, and Pimm's Cup, for which there are 2 recipes.
While the majority of the cocktails in Kit's book are considered to be classics there are few excellent newcomers. Two of the most intriguing are the Wild Rose, made with a mix of vermouth and rose liqueur and the White Manhattan, made with white whiskey, vermouth and Cointreau. As a fan of Manhattans this one is tops on my list to try as soon as I can find Koval Oat White Whiskey.
And did I mention that the book is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds? Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful photograph, each taken against a black background, so as not to distract the eye with any extraneous clutter, and backlit so that each cocktail seems to glow with its own internal light.
This book belongs on the shelf of anyone that loves New Orleans, or is a cocktail aficionado, and doubly so if you fall into both categories. Kit Wohl and her book will not disappoint.