The quality and variety of alcoholic beverages available today in major markets is better than ever before, and access to cocktail recipes is just one Google search or Pinterest board away. So opening a hip, new cocktail bar seems like it would be easy enough. And yet, simply providing customers with a menu of classic and/or new cocktails doesn’t equal success.
What’s the magic behind a great bar? This quote showed up in my Twitter feed, posted by Fred Yarm, aka The Cocktail Virgin, which perfectly summarizes the answer: “Everyone can make great drinks. Remember, we’re selling experiences.”
That’s exactly what I started to notice while reading through the pages of Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails. The team at Death & Co has been leading the charge for years in the cocktail scene, and recently produced a book that speaks to some of my favorite experiences in bars over the past several years. Not only does the book provide fantastic recipes, techniques, and overall booze knowledge, but it sheds light on some of the individuals within their community.
In the book, barbacks, bartenders, and patrons provide stories around their favorite cocktails, spirits, and memories — that’s what makes this book special. I’ve picked up a lot of books over the past few years, but this is easily becoming one of my favorites and a go-to for quick recipe ideas. It reminds me why so many people love the culture of booze.
Flipping to the Brandy category (the book is organized by spirit), I set out to take advantage of some newly-acquired apple brandy. I had every intention of offering up my own spin on one of their recipes, but after tasting the Lilywhacker (developed by Phil Ward, a multi-year bartender of the year nominee at Tales of the Cocktail), I didn’t feel like any minor deviation would improve the drink. It is a delicious take on the classic Manhattan.
2 oz apple brandy (Phil recommends Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy 100 proof)
.75 oz sweet vermouth (Phil recommends using Carpano Antica)
.5 oz triple sec (Phil recommends using Cointreau; I used Perrie Ferrand Dry Curacao)
1 dash mole bitters (Phil recommends using Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters; I used Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitter)
Garnish optional (Phil recommends no garnish. I tried it with and without an orange peel; it’s delicious either way.)
Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing glass or a pint glass. Fill the glass with ice. Stir until chilled (at least 10 seconds). Strain the drink into a chilled coupe. If you want to add a fancy garnish as shown in the pictures, peel a swath of orange and thread it through a toothpick or a fancy cocktail pick.
Cocktail books are a great way to geek out on spirits, liqueurs, techniques, and frameworks for creating your own cocktails. Just in time for the holidays, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails is highly recommended as a gift for your friend that loves booze. It’s available through Amazon now.
Photography and styling by Hannah Levy.