Back to Basics

The Essential Bar Book is a refresher course on everything cocktail.

Wait, what was ramazzotti again? Or rabarbaro? The recent craft cocktail renaissance has brought a wealth of diversity to bar menus and liquor store shelves, which is unquestionably great.

But sometimes with the large volume of new-to-us terms and labels, it can feel as though bartenders and devoted cocktailians speak another language. In writing The Essential Bar Book: An A-Z Guide to Spirits, Cocktails and Wine with 115 Recipes for the World’s Great Drinks, which came out fall 2014, my main goal was to decode that specialized world—to answer that question that we all sometimes get after reading a cocktail list: “What is that word on my menu?”

But while the book functions well as a reference tool to look up terms and cocktails in order to empower the cocktail-curious, there’s more a subtle undercurrent as well: Spend enough time with the terms and drink recipes, and the building blocks of the cocktail world become apparent.


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Photo courtesy Jennifer Fiedler

For instance, The Old Pal, a drink made from rye, Campari and dry vermouth, is simply a variation on the Negroni (gin, Campari and sweet vermouth), which itself was a spin on the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water). Or you’ll see that the Moscow Mule (recipe, next page), with its fancy copper cup and tony Hollywood pedigree, is a merely a twist on the buck family of cocktails, which are spirits mixed with ginger ale.

And it’s here—in looking at the family trees for these drinks and ingredients—that cocktails and spirits begin to get really fun, because you begin to understand how to play with them and make your own variations. The ingredient list for the French 75, when made with gin, for instance, looks very close in relation to the Tom Collins, except it’s made with Champagne instead of soda water. Imagine what you could do with hard cider as the bubbly ingredient and a different base spirit—Calvados or Applejack, perhaps?

After mastering the classics from recipes in this book, look to make similar substitutions for your own personalized twists.

Think fino sherry for dry vermouth, Old Tom gin for London Dry gin or mezcal for tequila. In your daiquiris and New York Sours, try different versions of simple syrup, such as ones made with Demerara sugar, maple syrup or honey. You never know: Maybe you’ll hit upon the next classic cocktail.

Moscow Mule (photo courtesy Angela Aurelio Photography, / Suda Suda Santa Cruz, CA).

Moscow Mule (photo courtesy Angela Aurelio Photography, / Suda Suda Santa Cruz, CA).


Born from a long lineage of ginger beer-based cocktails known as “bucks,” this drink featuring vodka, ginger beer and lime juice was created in the early 1940s. Although the exact origins of the recipe are disputed, most accounts credit an alcohol-fueled meeting between John G. Martin, an executive at the company that bottled the then-unknown Smirnoff, and Jack Morgan, a producer of ginger beer and the owner of the Cock ‘n Bull bar in Hollywood.

Together the pair dreamed up an easy-to-make drink using their underperforming products and gave it a funny name to make it easier to sell. (“Moscow” is a nod to vodka’s Russian roots). After a lull in popularity during World War II, ads for “Mule Parties” featuring celebrities, such as Woody Allen, helped raise the profile of this drink in the 1960s—as well as that of vodka, which would go on to supplant gin and whiskey as the country’s most popular spirit. Tradition dictates that this drink should be served in a copper mug (some origin myths account for a third friend who needed to offload said mugs), though highballs or Collins glasses are suitable substitutions.


2 ounces vodka
1/4 ounce lime juice
4 ounces ginger beer

Garnish: lime wheel Glassware: Collins, high ball or copper mule mug

Add vodka and lime juice to a Collins, highball or copper mule mug. Top with crushed or cracked ice. Top with ginger beer, and swizzle gently to mix. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Reprinted with permission from The Essential Bar Book, by Jennifer Fiedler, copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC.

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