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Book Review: Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide To Over 1,000 Cocktails
By Mittie Hellmich
Chronicle Books, 2006
Reviewed by William I. Lengeman III

We live in an era when a surprising number of chefs have become household names. There may not be any mixologists (once we knew them as bartenders) who have made it to this lofty pinnacle yet, but their profile is certainly rising nowadays. So what better time for a work like Mittie Hellmich's Ultimate Bar Book, with a mission statement that promises to assist "a new generation of mixologists and bring the cocktail into the new century"?

The book kicks off with a section on The Essential Bar. This includes a glossary of bar equipment, a glassware guide that explains the function of 25 types of glasses and a primer on stocking a home bar - be it the basic "mini" bar or a fully outfitted one.

Also in this chapter are sections on measurement and terminology. The latter is an education in itself. At age 44, I can finally say that I know what "dry" means, when used in reference to spirits (not sweet). Also included is a guide to types of drinks, many of which (buck, gobbler, crusta, daisy, flip, pousse-cafe, puff, smash) I've never heard of.

As Mixology 101 opens, we're informed that "a mixologist is viewed as a knowledgeable maestro." This chapter covers the basic aspects of taking cocktail ingredients and making something of them. It covers the finer points of shaking, stirring, garnishes, infusions and syrups, among other things.

Smooth Entertaining takes on such topics as food, music and the duty of a mixologist to behave responsibly. The rest of the book is given over to the cocktails themselves, over 400 pages worth, with each recipe accompanied by a section of very informative history and background information. Included in this sizable chunk of the book are sub-sections on beer and sake, brandy, champagne and sparkling wines, gin, liqueurs, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey and wines and fortified wines.

Also on board are recipes for hot drinks, punches and shooters. For those who don't avail themselves of the strong stuff, there are a number of non-alcoholic alternatives. Another handy section is the one devoted to hangover recipes and pick-me-ups.

Among the many quotes peppered throughout the text are Samuel Butler's "if the headache would only precede the intoxication alcoholism would be a virtue". Some of the suggestions for those who hope to head off a hangover are various combinations of vitamins and eating and/or drinking milk prior to and while drinking. Hydration is another good tactic, though one should note that no solution is foolproof, especially if you've really gone and tied one on.

At nearly 500 pages, the Ultimate Bar Book is, nonetheless, compact and eminently practical. It's a book that obviously meant to be used, as opposed to just being stashed away on a shelf. Even the semi-glossy pages seem to be designed to minimize spill damage. And with more than 1,000 recipes to choose from, it's official - you can no longer be excused if you settle for a mundane cocktail.

William I. Lengeman III is a food writer, book reviewer and publisher of Tea Guy Speaks

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