We love great cocktails. In fact, our love of great cocktails was part of our inspiration for starting the distillery. As we celebrate our Tenth Anniversary, and as we plan for our Repeal Day celebration tonight, we want to celebrate and highlight some early influences in our cocktail exploration. There have been some great books, people and friends who have nudged us along in our exploration of great drinks – here are some highlights from the early years:
Cocktail Books & References
We have a wide array of cocktail books in our collection – the picture at right shows a sample of our collection (this is the set we have at the distillery right now, we have more at home). There are several I refer to often, such as:
- Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail) – my first real cocktail book, and truly a joy – every drink in the book is great, and comes with an explanation of where it came from and why it’s great, too. Dr. Cocktail also maintains cocktaildb.com, which is a great website resource for a range of cocktail recipes, as well as encyclopedic lists of drinks that call for a specific ingredient.
- Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan (now known as Gaz Regan) – this one breaks drink composition down into categories and types, and has great descriptions of tools & techniques, too. Gary Regan was one of the first cocktail experts we encountered – right after we started the distillery, I exchanged emails with Gary and have run across him here and there ever since. He has written a number of books, often speaks on cocktail topics, and sends out popular email newsletters too.
- The Essential Bartenders Guide by Robert Hess (aka Drink Boy) – another great reference for tools/techniques when you’re getting started, and has an array of good drink recipes too. Mr. Hess has written a number of other books as well, and does some popular cocktail-related videos with Small Screen Network.
- Imbibe! by David Wondrich – full of stories about “Professor” Jerry Thomas, a pioneer in the craft of great cocktails (a distinctly American innovation). While it’s not something to be read straight through, I refer to it in chunks depending on what style of drink I’m contemplating, or to refresh my memory about how a type of cocktail evolved in history. Mr. Wondrich has written a number of other great books, and writes a regular column for Esquire magazine, as well as other publications.
- The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg – when you’re looking for inspiration, or for potential flavor companions for an ingredient, this book is a great source for ideas. This is not a cocktail or bartending book at all, but it is an indispensable resource for anyone who loves cooking, baking, drink-making or other flavor-based arts. I look at this book often for ideas, and then can be found in my kitchen with a variety of ingredients and tools strewn about.
Bartenders & Other Industry Folk
So many folks have helped us, taught us, inspired us and encouraged us along the way, and there is no way we could possibly thank them all. We’ll start by calling out a couple of folks that really helped us in the early years. We’ll add to this list many times in future posts!
- Tim Lacey – Tim no longer works in the bar/restaurant industry, so we can’t send you to try his amazing cocktails, nor his phenomenal housemade tonic syrups (which he did years before anyone else). Tim taught us many things and also inspired us and our work over the years. We have many fond memories of stories over cocktails with Tim, cocktail pairing events, and even some ukelele music – we’re sorry we don’t see him more often.
- Bridget Albert – though she wouldn’t claim it, Bridget is the godmother of the cocktail community in Chicago. Chicago now has an incredible, thriving cocktail scene and a real sense of community as well, and Bridget has been instrumental in creating the culture here. We are so happy to be part of the Chicago cocktail community, and really appreciate that Bridget (and others on her team, like Debbi Peek) have been so supportive and inclusive toward us. I am regularly inspired by their leadership and example, and also their cocktail knowledge. Bridget wrote a great book that I also love and will write more about soon – Market-Fresh Mixology. She was one of the first to take a truly seasonal approach to her drinks, and the book is full of beautiful pictures and great recipes for drinks using a range of spirits, flavors and techniques. She recently re-released in a new edition, too, and the profits go to ending childhood hunger. See what I mean? She’s a real inspiration.
When we first started out, there were only a handful of bars (at best) in Chicago where you could get a properly made classic cocktail – as a result, many of our best drinks back then were made and consumed at home. Some early favorite bars from back then include:
- The Matchbox, which continues to be a great little bar where you can get a great drink, whether a classic cocktail or not.
- Nacional 27, where we met the incredibly talented Adam Seger, who was a real innovator in Chicago with his cocktail program there. He has been gone from Nacional 27 for many years, and has gone on to develop his own spirits & bitters, consult on menus around the globe, and help build the Chicago cocktail community, as well.
- Custom House, where we first met Tim Lacey. Custom House was one of our first customers in the city of Chicago, and we partnered with the team there on a range of great events over the years. We still miss Tim, and the team at Custom House, which closed in 2012.
Nowadays I need both my hands, both my feet, and other peoples’ limbs to name all the great bars when you can get a good cocktail in Chicago!