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SB Voices: Booze books and the cocktail boom

Cocktail culture is continually expanding and its popularity is soaring. Michael J Ritchie wonders if books hold the secret to future growth and innovation.

A plethora of cocktail books have made it easier for people to know how to stock a home bar

For a long time, as far as the casual drinker was concerned, mixology may as well have been one of the elective subjects at Hogwarts. The art of cocktail making seemed to be shrouded in mystery, with bartenders flinging around glasses, shakers and ingredients to create delicious concoctions that defied explanation.

These days, however, the kit is easy for consumers to get hold of, and there is a myriad of texts available on how to create cocktails in the comfort of your own home.

When the craft cocktail resurgence blossomed in the early 1990s, most activity and recipe-sharing took place on the embryonic internet, but publishers soon cottoned on and before too long, it was easy to get hold of a book of recipes and people were then far easier able to brew up alcoholic elixirs in their own homes.

So what is the affect of everyone now having the ability to make cocktails in their own home? Simply, it makes people more aware of mixed drinks and perhaps keener to try something new when they’re now out on the town. While some recipes feature ingredients that can be found in even the most basic liquor cabinets – gin and tonic, Martini, Daiquiri – some mixes require more obscure ingredients. We presumably don’t all have Benedictine to hand.

Some people will be willing to splash out on the other ingredients, but to others, it’s simply easier to stick to the classics. However, flicking through these often lavishly illustrated books can provide inspiration and give people an impetus to visit a cocktail bar where they can experiment with other flavours and ingredients they wouldn’t normally get to try.

Many cocktail books centre around specific, often whimsical, themes.

The influx of cocktail books to the market have also opened up the idea that there is something for everyone, no matter your tastes or interests. Whatever base spirit you favour, you can find something on any number of themes. Tequila Mockingbird, for example, gives a literary twist on classic cocktails, serving up Love in the Time of Kahlúa, A Rum of One’s Own, or The Last of the Mojitos. For science fiction geeks, there’s The Cocktail Guide to the Galaxy, with fantastic recipes for the George R R Martini, the Flux Incapacitator, or The Vermouth Is Out There. And for the purists, there are of course books that are more simple in their presentation, such as The Classic Cocktail Bible from Spruce.

But has the unlocking of cocktail making secrets hampered bartenders? Not a chance. They’re just now having to invent even more outrageous and wonderful combinations. The Alchemist, with locations all over the UK, has once again gone back to treating mixology as a magic trick, with drinks that change flavours halfway down the glass, alter in colour as you drink them, and any manner of drinks that bubble, fizz, smoke and steam.

Cocktails may have been welcomed into the home, but it is in bars that they still truly hold their own.

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