All The Gin Joints by Michael Turback
New Spins on Gin from America’s Best Bars
I enjoyed reading an advance copy of Michael Turback’s All The Gin Joints: New Spins on Gin from America’s Best Bars (ISBN 978-1466282988), a book celebrating gin with “101 artisanal cocktails.” Mr. Turback writes in a light, engaging style, weaving quotes from Casablanca through the prologue and the brief history of gin that front the cocktail recipes. A small fairly complete section covers proper bartending tools, material which should be familiar to people who love cocktails.
The cocktails themselves range from the staggeringly simple “Wolf’s Bite”, (3 parts gin, 2 parts grapefruit juice, and 1 part Green Chartreuse) to the almost comically complex “Daikon Dream”, which has intrepid home mixologists stirring up dongchimi broth, taking two full days to ferment at room temperature.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some intriguing drinks in this book. I am honored to know all of the Texas bartenders in the book, and Bobby Heugel’s “Smitten” is not only delicious, but within the abilities of the home cocktail-maker. Likewise, Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s “East of Eden” takes an gin sour with equal parts citrus and syrup, but enhances the white flower aromatics of St. Germain with a floral-lychee scented Gewurztraminer reduction. There are some cocktails in “All The Gin Joints” that combine deliciousness and ease of construction into a pleasant whole.
Yet for all of the light touch to the writing, and the straightforward history of gin, many of the other recipes are out of the league of the recreational bartender. Some cocktails call for infusing flavorings into entire bottles of gin, an idea that makes me cringe ever since I did the same thing a year ago. That bottle of green tea gin is still loitering in my bar, with two drinks out of it. Other cocktails call for a veritable garden of vegetables, kumquat jam, celery juice, or ingredients that are not legal in the United States. (Derek Brown’s “Steady Cocktail” calls for Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse, a 138 proof spirit that is the base of Green Chartreuse, but not cleared for importation.)
The divide between this easy style and the basic explanations of the history of gin and barware and the advanced cocktails that pepper this book confuses me. If this book is meant for the novice gin drinker, why punish them with impossible ingredients and day long preparations? If this book is meant for someone who is familiar with advanced cocktail making, why not dig into the subject a bit more? As I fall into the second category, I would have loved some theory, or at least a discussion of each cocktail’s flavor profile.
Finally, I have some quibbles with the editing. While the history of gin talks about Genever, Old Tom and London Dry gins, every recipe merely specifies gin, without type or brand. Dry vermouth is sometimes called dry vermouth, and sometimes French Vermouth. Cynar is once called “Cynar Artichoke”, which while true, is an incorrect usage. A good editorial eye could have made the ingredients more specific and consistent, even if the recipes were collated from various sources.
The strength of this book is Mr. Turback’s writing style, and I would like to have more of it. I wish that more care had been taken to harmonize the difficulty level of the drinks with the engaging prose. This is a useful book to me, even if I’d only make half of the recipes.
by Zachary Pearson