Beta Cocktails by Maks Pazuniak and Kirk Estopinal

Beta Cocktails and precursor
Beta Cocktails and precursor

Are you a bartender that wants to find that one drink to add to your menu to make your local cocktail nerd swoon? Or maybe you're the jaded home mixer who's tried so many Manhattan variations you are sure they are running out of areas of New York? Behold: Beta Cocktails. Originally published in 2009 as Rogue Cocktails, the book is a collaboration between Maks Pasuniak and Kirk Estopinal, who met while tending bar in New Orleans. They combined a handful of their own recipes with some of their favorite boundary-pushing offerings from their colleagues and slapped the whole thing together as a self-published mini-book. Everything seemed great until Rogue Brewery came calling with a trademark infringement complaint, and Beta Cocktails was born.

A Moment of Silence

1 12ozRye
1ozApricot liqueur, Marie Brizard
12ozAmaro, Averna
12ozBitters, Angostura
14ozApple brandy, Lairds
1twstOrange peel (as garnish)
Rinse a rocks glass with Campari. Stir and strain over fresh ice into rinsed glass and garnish with an orange twist.

The revised book was published in 2011, and features most of the best drinks from the original with a good helping of new additions from such high-profile bartenders as Toby Maloney of Violet Hour and the legendary Chris McMillian. There's also a brief forward from David Wondrich, but the bulk of the book is simply a list of cocktails with brief descriptions and some classy photography documenting each drink. This list includes stellar drinks like A Moment of Silence, Bitter Giuseppe, and The Warning Label. It also features a handful of drinks that were fairly well established by the time they made it into the book, like Don Lee's bitters-heavy Don's Little Bitter and Toby Maloney's brilliant Eeyore's Requiem.

The Warning Label

Stir, strain, straight up, chilled cocktail glass rinsed in Campari, garnish.

Let's be clear: Beta Cocktails is not for everyone. There are some other things it's not. It's not a "how to" guide for making cocktails, amassing a bar, or learning about liquor. It's also not a book you should buy as your first cocktail book, or really even your third. Beta doesn't cater to the average drinker looking for something light and fruity; the drinks tend towards the bitter and the strong, and you should expect to find drinks with large portions of non-potable bitters, saline solution, and/or ungodly amounts of Fernet or Absinthe. It's also filled with lesser-known ingredients, including some like Unicum and Suze that are not currently available in the US; for the Riddles in the Dark drink you need rye whiskey, Carpano Antica vermouth, Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Nardini Amaro, R&W Orchard Cherry, and Bitter End's Moroccan bitters. If you view this list as an impediment rather than a dare, this book might not be for you.

Eeyore's Requiem

1 12ozCampari
12ozGin, Tanqueray (or use more Campari)
1ozBianco Vermouth, Dolin
14ozFernet Branca (scant)
1dsOrange bitters (50% Fee / 50% Regans')
3twstOrange peel (expressed, one as garnish)
Stirred, garnished with heavy orange oil and a pigtail twist.

Yet for the reader that is invigorated by the new, the unusual, and the challenging, this might be your new favorite book. Beta is the book for the tired palate searching for something different, but it's also a great look into the vanguard of cocktails among the new set of bartenders aiming for something different. The advantage of not trying to act like a one-stop shop for your cocktail needs is that the book is solid, interesting drink after solid, interesting drink — with no filler that usually takes up space in cocktail books. It might not be the catch-all, but Beta is one of those books that, if you like one drink, you'll probably like them all (or at least respect them, anyway). That means it's one of those books that, if you like it, you're probably going to love it. The best advice might be to just give one or two of these drinks a try. If you get the sudden urge to purchase the whole thing, don't fight it, give in to your inner cocktail geek.

Editor's note: Rated double black diamond. The book can be a bit hard to find. Try The Boston Shaker.


This is a book of cocktail theory...

Zachary Pearson's picture

I have the "Just the recipes" version of Beta cocktails, and it's fantastic. I find myself leafing through it just to figure out what they're thinking, and wondering what I can steal: ratios, pairings of ingredients, and massive amounts of expressed citrus peel come to mind. While this shouldn't be the first cocktail book you own, at some point, you're going to want to know how to build cocktails, and this is a great way to learn.



Excellent point, Zach.

bza's picture

I actually used the combination of tequila, root beer, Fernet, and cream from a drink in the original book to make a Fernet ice cream root beer float, spiked with a shot of tequila - delicious.

One point I neglected to mention in the review which I really love about this book is that - if you do have a fully stocked bar to play with - the recipes aren't filled with infused this and special syrup that. You can make almost all of these drinks with stuff you have on hand, which means you aren't stuck with an almost full bottle of star anise-infused brandy, or whatever.

And that's a point in the book's favor

I like that in a cocktail book, because usually, when you open a book to look for a drink, it's because you want a drink NOW, not a week from now.


sjdiaz21's picture

Definitely a unique cocktail book. I agree it's not an early introduction for the novice drinker or aspiring enthusiasts, but a must for the adventurous and seasoned imbiber. You can also find this on Cheers.