Cookbook review: Pathways to cocktail perfection

‘The Bartender’s Manifesto: How to Think, Drink, and Create Cocktails Like a Pro’ by Toby Maloney and the Bartenders of the Violet Hour with Emma Janzen (Potter, 32.50)

I tend to be easily seduced by cocktail menus with sexy drink names and descriptions. Yet time and again, the first sip has me wishing I’d just gone with the pinot grigio. Occasionally, though, I’ll hit upon that multisensory experience that’s thrilling in a way I can’t quite explain, whetting my thirst to keep exploring.

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“There is always more to creating a great drink than meets the eye,” writes James Beard award-winning bartender Toby Maloney, “and the best recipes manage to express a flavor or idea in a way that walks the razor’s edge between beautifully minimal subtlety and organized chaos.”

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Maloney and the mixology team at his Chicago cocktail mecca, The Violet Hour, lay out their methods and thought processes of achieving that goal in exhaustive — and entertaining — detail in “The Bartender’s Manifesto: How to Think, Drink, and Create Cocktails Like a Pro” (Potter, 32.50).

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This book, he tells you upfront, “is not Cocktails 101.” He suggests other references to bone up on basics. A colorful and exuberant storyteller, he instructs us how to “spank” mint (and why), perform a “coupe shake,” and choose the proper glass and ice shape for every situation. He references Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to describe a drink’s “narrative arc,” and Jolly Ranchers and orange marmalade to explain “echoing flavors.”

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He illustrates these concepts in recipes such as the rum-based Tattooed Seaman inspired by his dad’s love of root beer, which “feels and reads as an adult version of a root beer float,” and the Iron Cross he describes as a “pisco sour, but one snazzed up with a great brooch and handbag.”

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Each calls for specific brands used in The Violet Room, but improvisation is advised and encouraged. It’s part of the homework for developing your personal drink-mixing style.

“Think of this process more like looking at clouds and seeing shapes like a bunny and a dragon, and less like picking up the flavors of garlic and basil in a marinara,” he explains. “Your subjective palate is going to latch onto things that will be different from what everybody else detects.”

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

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