Designed & Decorated By Seth (Gregory Gallant)
Thomas Dunne Books
Hard cover, $19.95, 240 pp
The cocktail is a grown up drink that has found its way into art, literature and film. In Mark Kingwell’s new book Classic Cocktails: A Modern Shake the influence of the cocktail in today’s culture is clear.
In chapters named after drinks like the Gimlet, Kir Royale, Zombie and Gibson, Kingwell reminds us that fictional characters from detectives to advertising executives become a whole bunch more interesting as the cocktail count goes up. In some cases the cocktail is a metaphor and in others it is a device to bring two characters together. Seldom is a drink just a drink.
Classic Cocktails is well written in short, punchy chapters that go down as smoothly as a well made Martini. It is one of those books to keep on a table next to your favorite chair or in your game room for friends to pick up and enjoy.
In his introduction, Kingwell offers up seven different possible explanations for why a mixed drink is called a cocktail. I have to admit that after writing about beer, wines and spirits for more than 25 years I thought I had heard them all, but at least two of the stories behind the origin of the term were new to me. In many ways, this sets up the rest of the book. As Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, rolls through the tale of the mixed drink you will find yourself recalling old movies, books you may have read and times in your life when a sophisticated night on the town required a cocktail. At other points you will learn something new about the mixed drink world.
Classic Cocktails: A Modern Shake points out the pivotal role the cocktail plays in leisure time and sports. The book notes when it comes to horse racing, the mint julep’s connection to the Kentucky Derby is just one such drink. There are actual drinks named after the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The great horse Man O’War even has a signature cocktail. The cocktail has its place at events big and small as we celebrate life.
If you think this work gives too much credit to the cocktail, Kingwell advises readers in his introduction: “This book is not for you if you think drinking in the afternoon is wrong, or if the thought of dealing with a hangover by mixing a stinger is repugnant.” Classic Cocktails message is clear: be proud and raise your glass.