I am not a bartender and I have never aspired to be one. I will mix an occasional cocktail for myself and Rosemary, but I will never be a top-notch bartender. However, I do like cocktail books for many reasons. They give a perspective of what people were drinking at the time the book was written and what type of spirits were used in making cocktails at the time. What I like about this book is that the author, Greg Seider, writes about his philosophy of what makes a good cocktail. This adds another historical opinion of the art of the cocktail and makes it a valuable addition to my library.

Alchemy in a Glass: The Essential Guide to Handcrafted Cocktails. Greg Seider, New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2014 Contents, Forward, Introduction, Index, Illustrations, 175pp.

Greg Seider is a bartender in New York City. When Seider wrote this book, he wanted to make it more than just another recipe book. He devotes several pages in the introduction and the first chapter discussing what he calls “The Art of the Flavorcycle”. The flavorcycle is his name for the components of a good cocktail. This is more than just the spirits and other ingredients of the cocktail. It is all about balance. The components of a flavorcycle are 1) Foundation – Spirits, Sour and Sweet, 2) Dimension – the component that make a cocktail flavor “flicker and pop”, 3) Finish – mouthfeel and texture of the cocktail, and 4) The X-Factor – “That mystical, invisible component, the emotional connection evoked by the drink”. 

With each of his recipes, Seider gives his “formula” – the spirit, the sweet, the sour, and the other components of the cocktail. He also explains what glass and what garnish he uses.  He suggests substitutes if you don’t have the particular brand of the components. For example, his recipe for a Manhattan has the following: Spirit: 2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye; Sweet: 1 ounce Dolin sweet vermouth; Bitters: 2 dashes orange bitters; Bitters: 2 dashes Angostura bitters; Glass: Martini or coupe; Garnish: Bourbon-soaked cherry; Notable substitutions: Cocchi vermouth di Torino, Knob Creek Rye, Eagle Rare 10yo Bourbon.

The book is well designed with each cocktail illustrated with a color photograph and a paragraph or two of the history of the cocktail and the author’s note on the cocktail. There are chapters with classic cocktails, some of his creations, punches, tools and equipment and other components such as garnishes and fruit purees. It is well indexed and recipes are easy to find. The history is interesting and well written.

This is a book that should be part of everyone’s spirits library. It is attractive, well written, entertaining, and informative. It is a classic cocktail book that will be valued for many years to come.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller