Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Gathers "Left Coast Libations" Between Covers

I remember, a couple Tales of the Cocktails back, being handed a humble little pamphlet called "Left Coast Librations." It was a collection of cocktail recipes from bartenders (and a blogger or two) from San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

That tiny booklet has grown up. It is now a full-fledged book, self-published by Ted Munat with Michael Lazar, and sporting an introduction by cocktail journalist Paul Clarke. It is a much grander affair. There are many beautiful photographs by Jenn Farrington of succulent-looking drinks, and a chunk of purple text heralding the Second-Coming-like qualities of each bartender who contributed recipes. Munat does not lack enthusiasm for his subjects.

Among the better known barkeeps tabulated here are Eric Alperin of Los Angeles (The Varnish); Neyah White (until recently of Nopa) and Jon Santer of San Francisco; Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland; and Zane Harris, Erik Hakkinen, Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson of Seattle. (The former volume included recipes by bloggers. These have been scrapped, unfortunately.)

I enjoy having this book around. Quite frequently, I'll make myself a cocktail that was birthed on the west coast. It helps me keep in touch with what's going on in the bar scene on that side of the country. And, often, the inventions are first rate. Owen Westman's Laphroaig Project is one of my favorite modern cocktails. (I was sorry not to see Westman or his Rickhouse compatriot Erick Castro included in the book. It's my general impression that most of the recipes still harken back to a time a few years ago.)

The book has given me the chance to try out a few other drinks I've heard tell about, but haven't had the chance to make. Among the most storied concoctions here: Morgenthaler's Richmond Gimlet, which sort of lives where the Gin Fizz meets the Mojito; Jon Santer's The Revolver, an addictive Bourbon Manhattan made with Tia Maria instead of Vermouth; and Marco Dionysos' Chartreuse Swizzle, which might as well be San Francisco's official drink.

I also whipped up Stenson's lovely Stephan's Sour, a Gin Fizz with celery bitters; Boudreau's Pax Sax Sarax, a heady mix of Highland single malt Scotch, Cherry Heering and Absinthe that really does need the garnish of three cherries like Jamie says it does; Zane Harris' Charlie's Vacation, a dreamy, frothy gin egg drink given color by Campari; Lance Mayhew's slightly too sweet The Swafford, made of rye, applejack, maraschino and Chartreuse; and White's 606, a strong mix of genever, sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca which, if it does not exactly sweet-talk you, certainly commands attention.

There are certain cocktails in this book which, I'm afraid, I'll probably never going to make, because they require me to make, among other things, pear foam, roasted pineapple feathers, kumquat marmalade, lavender-infused honey syrup, banana-chip-infused rum and lime-whey mixture. Honestly guys, this is a book for the home drink enthusiast. Leave those drink behind the bar, where they belong. Simple does it.

Other things the book tells us about west coast bartenders: they love gin, Chartreuse, the taste of celery, Sherry, Ramazotti, and like to support local distillers like Oregon's Clear Creek. I hope soon I can experience many of these biases, and the bartenders who hold them, in person.


Charles Munat said...

I beg to differ. Left Coast Libations is a book about bartenders, not drinks. It is meant to promote the bartenders -- to get you to get off your sofa and out to the bar to see one of these folks, or to seek out your local equivalent.

Of course, books full of drinks that no one can make are kind of sadistic, which is why Mr. Lazar made every single drink in the book at home. If you're too lazy to take on some of the more complex creations, don't fob that off on other readers. There may be many who are just geeky and curious enough to try them. And LCL goes through a lot of effort to make sure they'll succeed.

As for the missing names of some current bars and bartenders, consider that self-publishing is no small task. It took two years to bring LCL to print, so virtually all of the drinks date from then. But so what? No book can keep up with the cocktail craze, nor should it try. The point is to give you an idea of what's possible, give you some drinks you can try, from easy to those requiring real effort, and to get you out to the bars.

In those respects, I think Ted and Michael and Jennifer did an outstanding job.

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

Thanks for commenting at length.

However, the book IS called "Left Coast Libations." Not "Left Coast Bartenders." That would seem to indicate the book is first and foremost about the drinks being created on the west coast. And, as much as I admire the mixologists profiled in these pages, I think a book about bartenders would be a very niche enterprise indeed.

Furthermore, if the point is mainly to get readers to go to these bars, then the volume only really works for people who live in California, Oregon and Washington. I think the book potentially has a far wider appeal than that.

I also must say I hardly think one should be called lazy for not attempting some of the ornate ingredients required to complete some of these drinks.

I'd also like to point out that my review of the book was by and large positive. I had quibbles, but I encourage people to buy it.