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Recently while perusing craft bartender Jason Schiffer’s blog I ran across a book recommendation: his only book recommendation, Home Bar Basics (and Not-So-Basics). Being Jason’s only recommended book, I felt compelled to break down and buy the modestly-priced guide, $12.99.

At first the guide’s small size took a while to get used to but after a buying trip to Costco and Bevmo, I realized its utility — it fits in your pocket. No flipping through sites on an iPhone, decidedly analog — just my style. Spiral-bound and printed on water/tear resistant paper I again realized its utility as it lay flat on my counter while a few drops of overspray from “craft” shaking went into play. iPad’s and Boston shakers don’t mix.

This guide is smart, well put together, well organized and beautifully illustrated. The author, Dave Stolte, is by the way a professional illustrator. It covers all the basics to get the butting mixologist off the ground. If you are a traditionalist like me, the guide might just cover most everything you need to know. I’d rather hone my skills at making a precise Manhattan than be able to make 20 versions of Sex on the Beach. The recommendations on spirits to buy are particularly useful. I already had some Cointreau, Bacardi (not recommended) and bitters so my first purchases were as follows: Bulleit Bourbon ($19), Rittenhouse 100 Rye ($24), a little more expensive than the other two rec’s but described as, “the one to beat”, Tanquerary Gin ($19) and Sauza Hornitos Reposado Tequila ($18). It was Cinco de Mayo so the Tequila seemed like a particularly good deal. $90 and I should be able to make about half the basic 12 Basic Drinks detailed. As this is a cocktail book, all the spirits noted are “mixing” spirits, i.e. they will be blending with other spirits, juices, etc. Quality should be to a certain level but not so high that they would be better poured on their own. Most spirits recommended are in the $15-$30 range.

The guide is opinionated; I prefer, in Stolte’s words, the “Practical – No Bullshit” approach, particularly in an industry dominated by multi-national conglomerates. Stolte’s Vodka recommendation is short and to the point, “Vodka isn’t fit to drink.”, probably not something someone who seeks sponsored trips to Finland would put into print. “…no pre-squeezed, packaged juice. EVER.” — no ambiguity there. He’s also encouraging, “With care and direction, you can make excellent cocktails at home — probably far better than your local bar or restaurant.”  The cocktails are organized in a logical sequence based on the primary spirit used in each cocktail. The first cocktail is the Old Fashioned.

Did I say this guide is smart? It is. Stolte financed this project online so he could make the guide he wanted to make: pocket-sized, spiral-bound, water/tear resistant paper, printed in the USA, beautiful illustrations (no glossy photos), smart recommendations and cleverly organized. Even with the tax and shipping, if you like quality, I can’t imagine this guide not being of use.

Note – as I work through the cocktails I may update and/or add links to this review…