The most civilised time possible must surely be spent with a cocktail and a book in hand, and if the book is about cocktails, then all the better.
A perfect mix: Booze and books
Nineteenth century journalist Harry Croswell once remarked that the cocktail is “an excellent electioneering potion… because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else”.
If that’s the case, then it follows that we’re liable to believe the very tallest tales about the origins of our favourite mixed drinks. What better time to devour a story about the history of the negroni, after all, than after half a dozen of them?
Connor Tomas O’Brien is a writer, designer, and creative type based in Melbourne.
The Guardian’s well-travelled booze writer – and curator of the cocktail list at Melbourne’s Heartattack and Vine – Chad Parkhill has developed a well-trained palette for cocktail origin stories. In Around the World in 80 Cocktails, he posits a theory that globetrotting has always been “part of the cocktail’s DNA”. While many mixed drinks consist of only a small handful of basic ingredients, it is how those ingredients first end up in the same place at the same time that can be surprising and fantastic.
The classic daiquiri (white rum, lime juice, simple syrup, and a lime wedge to garnish) is hardly a complex idea, for example, but its perfection involved a duke-out between competing recipes – one from an American mining engineer tasked with exploiting Cuban ore deposits, and another popular with Cuban rebels during the Spanish-American War two years later.
The story of ‘tiki’ drinks, meanwhile, demonstrates just how muddled our ideas of provenance can be. Far from authentically Tahitian, the Mai Tai was the product of two feuding ‘Tiki titans’ from Oakland, California who made a living selling a distorted appropriation of Polynesian culture to mid-century America diners. This raises ideas about whether the Mai Tai actually ‘belongs’ to California, or to Tahiti – or whether cocktails, in some sense, are uniquely cosmopolitan and resistant to being fully tied to their recognised place of origin.
Parkhill’s selection spans the classics, but introduces some elegant modern concoctions. ‘Falling Water’, for example, while barely a decade old, is surely a firm contender for the most emphatically New Zealand cocktail in existence – and has a fascinating origin story beginning with the introduction of the feijoa (‘pineapple guava’) to New Zealand in 1908, the invention of herbal mineral water by an Auckland-based Dutchman eighty years later, and the David vs Goliath story of a 21st century Wellington vodka startup. Stories like this show that while it may feel as though the golden age of alcoholic exploration is over, and we are in a fully globalised ‘craft cocktail’ marketplace, the most interesting new cocktails are still those with deep ties to place.
Illustrator Alice Oehr’s contributions to Around the World in 80 Cocktails are stunning – a full-page image for each drink, rendered in the style of a vintage lithographic James Northfield travel poster. Like Parkhill, Oehr is a perfect fit for the project – she’s also responsible for the illustrations in recent ramen cookbook Ramen-topia, and is skilful at identifying what makes recipes most visually delightful and unique.
Around the World in 80 Cocktails is a charming book – a perfect collection of recipes for intoxicated conversation, or guidebook for the tipsy traveller.