Tuesday Reviews-Day: An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails by Orr Shtuhl

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails by Orr Shtuhl for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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On sale today is another book in the vast collection of cocktail books on the market: An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails: 50 Classic Cocktail Recipes, Tips, and Tales. Just like cookbooks in general, cocktail guides are numerous enough that there is a book out there that speaks to every type of cook or cocktail-er around.

From the press release:

Where there’s a cocktail, there’s a story. Shaken or stirred, on the rocks or straight up, liquor always has its characters, and from their exotic names to their romantic associations and cultural connections, every cocktail has a unique history.

I adore the premise of this book, as both a cocktail enthusiast and an illustrator. After reading through this petite volume, though, I’m left a little shaken, but not exactly stirred.

The writing is amusing, as befits Shtuhl’s past as a “cheeky beer columnist” and former speakeasy runner, and deviates from a lot of the standard stories you find in most cocktail guides. In addition to many of the major-name classics, he delves into several offshoots and behind-the-bar stories that you may not find elsewhere. The organization of the book, however, is willy-nilly and rambling. To even suggest that there is an organizational system might be going too far as there in no Table of Contents and no chapters to point to even if there had been. You have features titled “How to Like Gin” on page 91 that refer you to, one would infer, the author’s top three recipes on pages 126, 69, and 149 (in that order). There is a complete index in the back of the book, however, so we’re not left completely to our own devices.

If you enjoy stream-of-consciousness reading, then you might enjoy the distinct lack of order in this book. If not, you’ve been warned.

As for the illustrations, Elizabeth Graeber’s style is not one I’m overly fond of. It’s the loose pen with a wash of watercolor look that has roots in years of magazine illustrations, but often deviates from basics of anatomy or scale. What works in single-panel asides in a magazine, however, becomes a bit much, for this reader, when it’s covering an entire book, however short and small that book may be. Whether a choice of the artist or the book’s designer, many of the illustrations do not fully fit the pages they face. Case in point: page 22 starts with a “table” of whiskey vs whisky with a slushy-margarita machine underneath it with the universal ‘no’ sign (a red circle with a slash through it). Margaritas are not discussed for another 70 pages.

Color me confused.

But, as I’ve said, just as there’s a shoe for every foot, there’s a book for every bar. I would recommend this book for fan’s of William Faulkner and Kate Beaton (writing and art, respectively). Slip this into a gift basket with a bottle of premium gin, Fever Tree Tonic, and a bag of limes for a housewarming gift and you’ll be surely invited back for a themed cocktail night.

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