Mix things up with this nonserious guide to bartending

To keep from going stir-crazy during the pandemic, I’ve tapped into kitchen ambitions I never knew I had. The latest is mixology.

Recently, I lined my counter with newly purchased rye, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine and bitters, measured them into a borrowed shaking tin with ice, held it over my head and gave it a performative shake. I strained the mixture into an ice-filled glass, dropped in a fancy bottled cherry, and repeated the process two more times. Then I proudly toted my personally hand-crafted Vieux Carre cocktails (find the recipe at ajc.com/cookbooks) onto the patio where my two neighbors awaited. We lowered our masks and raised a clink-free toast. Our weekly socially-distanced happy hour suddenly felt downright festive.

I owe this burst of inspiration to John deBary, who made his name in the spirits world as a bartender at renowned New York speakeasy PDT, then as bar director for the acclaimed Momofuku restaurant group, before founding his own drinks company. Now that bar-going is on hold for most of us, his new book, "Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails" (Potter, $25) feels perfectly timed.

Quick as it is to mix a cocktail, it’s not necessarily easy to get it right. He breaks the formula down to its objective elements (sweetness, acidity, temperature), with a primer on tools, ingredients and techniques. Recipes are grouped by more subjective factors (Feeling Classic, Feeling Festive, Feeling Desperate), with bright illustrations and witty banter interwoven throughout.

Unlike other spirits guides, deBary devotes precious little ink to histories and production details and sticks to matters of the palate. He’ll guide you through a perfectly balanced Manhattan, a nonalcoholic Watermelon-Fennel Collins, and Weed Punch, which features exactly what the name implies.

In my freezer now is a bottle of vodka-based Beached Mint-Lime Cooler. I won’t be taking it to the beach, but I have high hopes that it will make my makeshift happy hour a little happier.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.


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