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Bone up on your drink-making skills with these five summer releases

Drinking School is in Session

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School may be out for the summer, but that doesn't mean you should put your book-learnin' on hold until September. That said, feel free to trade the textbooks for a stack of instructional manuals devoted to one of our favorite summer pastimes: drinking. Here are a few of our favorite recent releases.

An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails: 50 Classic Cocktail Recipes, Tips, and Tales
By Orr Shtuhl, Illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber
Gotham Books
$20
Level: Novice

With its small size and whimsical illustrations, it's easy to discount Orr Shtuhl's Illustrated Guide to Cocktails as a superficial little read, but in fact it's packed with history, factoids, and recipes for classic cocktails. The author, a Brooklynite who wrote the Beerspotter column for the Washington City Paper, approaches the history of cocktails with a fun, irreverent air. For instance, he'll give you the lowdown on some useful bar equipment (jiggers, Hawthorne shakers, absinthe fountains), then tell you how to make a martini in a commemorative SeaWorld cup. Because sometimes that's all you have to work with. Every recipe comes with a brief recap of its history. Recipes range from the most basic, like the gin and tonic, which comes with advice on "how to like gin," to the more complex, like the Zombie (rum, rum, and more rum). Most of the recipes are really quite simple, and between Shtuhl's playfully informative descriptions and Elizabeth Graeber's illustrations, they're more than approachable.

"True Brews" - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • "True Brews"

True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home
By Emma Christensen
Ten Speed Press
$23
Level: Intermediate

Emma Christensen wants you to know that all you need to brew your own soda, kombucha, or beer is a big pot, a bucket, and a long-handled spoon. Hell, you could throw some yeast in a bottle of grape juice and have wine in a few days. Though if we're being honest, a quality brew is going to require a little more effort than that. Still, The Kitchn's recipe editor created this book to make homebrewing seem as fun and simple as possible. The book clearly breaks down each step of the process, including basic brewing ingredients, equipment, and a handbook with tips on everything from brewing in hot vs. cold weather to dealing with exploding bottles and funky smells.

Once that's out of the way, each chapter explores a different beverage from the title, starting with a little Q&A from an expert, like Jesse Friedman of SodaCraft and Jeffrey House of ACE Cider. Christensen provides a basic master recipe then a handful of alternates like watermelon-mint soda, pineapple-brown sugar cider, and blueberry-lavender mead.

Cocktails for a Crowd: More Than 40 Recipes for Making Popular Drinks in Party-Pleasing Batches
By Kara Newman
Chronicle Books
$18.95
Level: Novice

Summer is the perfect time to entertain, and New York-based writer Kara Newman will teach you how to create big-batch cocktails that will keep you mingling with guests, and not stuck behind the bar. The Wine Enthusiast magazine spirits editor offers up recipes for punches, pitcher drinks, tiki and tropical drinks, and cool and classic cocktails, each with little tips and tidbits you can use to amaze and enlighten party-goers. Fish House Punch, for instance, is a historic mix traditionally served on Repeal Day, Dec. 5, which celebrates the end of Prohibition — it blends dark rum, cognac, peach brandy, lemon juice, and sugar. The book also includes recipes for New Orleans' classic Southern Milk Punch (bourbon, Tuaca, half-and-half), a Scorpion Bowl (rum, brandy, juices), and a bottled version of Negronis (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth).

The recipes are split up into three categories based on the way people drink: Light, Bright, and Refreshing (perfect for patio drinking); Big and Boozy (better for after dark); and Sweet, Creamy, and Desserty (to satisfy your sweet tooth). A few of the recipes are pretty standard, but Alan tends to put his own spin on modern recipes or introduce completely new concoctions. For instance, the Wabbit Smash was invented by a bartender in Plano who was inspired by Sunday morning cartoons with his kids — it blends fresh ginger, honey syrup, Bombay gin, lemon juice, carrot juice, and fresh mint. Some of the recipes include multiple steps and obscure ingredients, but Alan explains each step of the process like the veteran barman he is.

Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State
By David Alan
Andrews McMeel Publishing
$19.99
Level: Intermediate

You don't have to live in Texas to appreciate Tipsy Texan, but you will learn a lot about the Lone Star State's drinking habits. Author David Alan, an Austin-based bartender and restaurant specialist, has put together a comprehensive guide to craft cocktails with a distinctly Texan flavor. He starts out all business, with a brief history of cocktails in America and a photo-illustrated guide to the required tools and techniques. The rest of the book is a rambling collection of recipes, tips, asides ("How to drink fluent Mexican"), and profiles of Texan tastemakers. Scattered throughout are bright, crisp photographs that'll have you headed to the kitchen to mix up a reading companion.

The Cocktail Lab will have you mixing up high-end drinks like the lipstick rose - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • The Cocktail Lab will have you mixing up high-end drinks like the lipstick rose

The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes
By Tony Conigliaro
Ten Speed Press
$29.99
Level: Advanced

London bartender Tony Conigliaro blends art and science in this innovative guide to cocktails. The art school grad started bartending to help pay the bills, then found an entirely new passion in mixology. He approaches cocktails as a fully sensory experience, taking into account the aesthetics and aroma of a drink as well as its taste.

Conigliaro breaks down the structure of each drink like a mad scientist — and in fact, he's known for creating the Drink Factory consultancy, a research and development company housed in Pink Floyd's old recording studio that features a lab where he can develop new recipes. His equipment ranges from a centrifuge to a Rotavapor, and he spends his days thermo-mixing, sous-viding, and dehydrating. He's not messing around.

But you don't have to be on Conigliaro's level to undertake these recipes, although some of them should be reserved for the true technician. Chapter one looks at classics and "spins," the author's own take on classic drinks. Additional chapters look at savory drinks (like the Bloody Mary that took Conigliaro 18 months to refine), concept drinks (like the Tarragon Caipirinha Ice Pop), and drinks inspired by perfume (like the Lipstick Rose). Each of these sections features scientific-looking diagrams mapping the flavor and with formal, still life-like photos of the drinks. The book's final, shorter chapters discuss details like cordials, tinctures, foams, macerations, and glassware. It's a lot to take in, but by the time you're done, you'll be ready to hold your own against your favorite bar's most pretentious barkeep.

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