With more editions than we can guesstimate, the 75th anniversary edition of Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide arrived on our desk with little fanfare (on our end, at least). After all, the book's signature minimalist layout and no-frills recipes are the appeal. It's the sort of book you pick up when a dinner party guests announces, just after you've squeezed dozens of limes for tequilas, how much they really do love a classic Montreal Gin Sour (gin, lemon juice, powdered sugar). Or for some, Mr. Boston's is guaranteed Friday night cocktail roulette fun, the sort of guidebook you pull out blindfolded and point to a page to find some “Fancy Brandy” conversation fodder (brandy, triple sec, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, lemon twist).
In other words, why would anyone need this soon-to-be-released updated version?
From the publisher's perspective, the noticeably chubbier 75th anniversary edition is filled with 1,500 drink recipes, from classics like an Old-Fashioned to “contemporary” drinks using “cutting edge” ingredients like absinthe, sake, infused spirits (the West Side uses lemon-flavored vodka, lemon juice, simply syrup, mint leaves, club soda), as well as a broader range of liqueurs like limoncello (used in a Limoncello Sour). There are also new photos, albeit still peppered about very occasionally, an updated spirits glossary, and the occasional cocktail recipe header to give you a little more information about that “Vesper” cocktail (gin, vodka, Cocchi Americano, lemon twist):
Vesper: James Bond's favorite cocktail, as described in Ian Fleming's book Casino Royale, named for Vesper Lynd, the novel's female character. We suggest stirring, not shaking the drink, but it's hard to argue with 007.
Interesting, but hardly reason to buy the new version. What is noticeably different here is that the book contains updated version of several recipes for modern cocktail palettes (substantially less citrus and more alcohol per cocktail, for starters). Consider that Montreal Gin Sour. In our 1988 edition, the cocktail calls for 1 ounce gin, 1 ounce lemon juice, ½ egg white and 1 teaspoon powdered sugar.
In the new copy, the cocktail is simply called a Gin Sour. It calls for double the gin yet only ¾ ounce of lemon juice and no egg white (our favorite frothy component of any sour, salmonella be damned). And instead of powdered sugar, as was common in old cocktail recipes, the simple syrup era has clearly taken hold in this 75th anniversary edition (here, 3/4 ounce is called for). Which cocktail you prefer, of course, depends on your palette — and if you do happen to hold a Mr. Boston's generational cocktail taste-off, let us know what you think.
The new book is organized by type of spirit rather than alphabetically, which is a big help when you're trying to figure out how to use up that bottle of vodka your boss gave you last Halloween (Might we suggest the classic Headless Horseman, recipe below?). There are also 200 recipes from modern bartenders in the new edition, something we find refreshing when classic martini and Sazerac exhaustion inevitably sets in. But we wish there had been a little more bartender diversity. For instance, Jonathan Pogash's recipes for a Brooklyn Tai (rum, orgeat syrup, lime juice, Brooklyn lager, mint/lime garnish) and Cherry-Vanilla Sparkler (pureed cherries, maraschino liqueur, vanilla liqueur, sparkling wine) appear on the same page, with other cocktails and soda recipes by the New York mixologist throughout the book. With so many great cocktail gurus out there today, there really shouldn't be a need to call on one bartender so much (unless you're talking about a bartending great like Dale DeGroff, who offers his tips a few times throughout the book).
All minor complaints, as this is still a truly great cocktail shelf book — it's the Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide, after all. And so yes, while we will be adding the new version to our shelves, we're also hanging onto our tattered copy. Here's to a Headless Horseman sort of Halloween, where both the old classics and trendy new cocktails are offered equal amounts of candy.
The Headless Horseman
From: Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide, The 75th Anniversary Edition and Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide (1988 edition).
Makes: 1 cocktail
2 ounces vodka
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1. Pour vodka and bitters into a Collins glass. Add ice, fill with ginger ale, and stir. Garnish with orange.