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Bibliophilia

When I was a child, I loved books. I still do, but when I was a child, I was endlessly fascinated with them. I would pick up a book and study it closely, examining the slip jacket; the corners of the cover, where the paper folds over the boards; the point where the body of the book is glued into the hardcover; the little fabric strip at the top, where the spine is glued in. I was fascinated with books as objects, and not just as storehouses of literature or information.

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I used to daydream as a child, wondering how books came to be. Who wrote them? How? What happened after that? How did an author’s words become this physical object I’m holding?

When I went to college, I majored in education, but I never pursued it as a career. I entered publishing instead, working first as a proofreader, then as a page-layout tech, and then finally as a copy editor.

Twice, I had the chance to travel offsite to a nearby printing facility to see books being produced. I saw giant rolls of paper; I saw machines making metal plates for the presses; I saw large sheets of paper roll across the plates to collect the ink, and then those sheets folded into signatures. I saw the signatures folded up and collected together and bound up in a certain way, and then inserted into their covers and glued to make a book.

Meanwhile, at the office, I learned how editors acquired and developed new projects, shepherding authors through the writing process to produce a complete manuscript, and then, in my role on the backend, I saw how the manuscript became a fully designed, full laid-out book, ready to go to press.

I even know a thing or two about how indexes are written.

As a child, I daydreamed about how books come into being, and as an adult, I had the chance to see it happen, and to help authors in my own small way to see their words take physical form as a printed book. Even that small part felt like fulfilling a childhood dream; even just the part about seeing the physical processes of printing and binding books was weirdly thrilling to me.

Now, here I am, with one of my own out there, and I cannot explain how much joy I felt to come home on Friday and see these.

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Odd Drinks To Be Had.

I came across an unusual article in the purpose of researching Shrubs. It ended up having no bearing whatsoever on the final manuscript, but I was fascinated enough by the piece that I OCR’d it, and cleaned up the inevitable typos.

Here, from the December 26, 1893, issue of the New York Sun, is an article about the various drinking establishments of Lower Manhattan, from the Battery up to about 28th Street. Be aware, some of the ethnic attitudes expressed in this piece are very much of their time. You’ll also note peculiarities of style and spelling; those are all in the original.

Continue reading

SHRUBS Update

The book still comes out October 6, and you can and should still preorder it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s.

I recently spoke with Kara Newman at Tasting Table about shrubs. You can and should read that here.

I also recently spoke with Paul Clarke at Imbibe magazine. Paul was doing a photo feature on shrubs, and the piece included a quote from me and a couple of my recipes. You can’t find it online, but here’s a supplemental piece on the website.

We’re currently firming up other media appearances, a radio appearance or two, and possibly some in-person events, if you want to see my mug live and up close. More to come.

New Standout Bitters

Man. Every time I think humankind has created every form of cocktail bitters imaginable, someone goes and proves me wrong. New bitters brands just keep coming, some with unusual flavors and others with delicious variations on classic styles. I’m working my way through the growing cornucopia of cocktail bitters, sampling the wares of upstart bitterers to let you know which bottles are worth buying.

The offerings I’ve reviewed here demonstrate the creativity of today’s producers of bitters. From your traditional cherry and orange bitters to more esoteric styles such as hop and fig, here are several bottles to seek out (and a couple that are skippable).

Read on.

SHRUBS in the Washington Post

I seem to have forgotten to mention it here, but Carrie Allen of the Washington Post called me up recently to discuss the past, present, and future of shrubs. We talked a bit about the book (she enjoys it! neener neener, she’s seen it and you haven’t!) and discussed why shrubs are good to drink, either as a non-boozy treat or as a boozy one.

The conversation was fun, and her piece, which ran last week, captures my voice well, so I’m really delighted with it. Check it out here!

10 Best Budget Rums

My posting frequency at SE has slipped to about twice a month these days, because BUSY. Anyway, here’s my latest.

We who love rum are very lucky people. It’s a category of spirits that offers many wonderful values—bottles that taste like they should cost way more than they actually do. You can very easily find great rums, both white and dark, under $20, and today, I’ll introduce you to a few of my favorites.

[Get the list!]

Kickstart a DIY Bitters Kit

The dudes at Hella Bitter have been busy dudes. They’ve designed a cool looking kit that you–yes, YOU–can use for the purpose of making bitters at home. In this kit, you’d find two infusion blends–a citrus spice blend and an aromatic blend–plus infusion jars, dropper bottles, a funnel, and a mesh strainer.

This might not be the thing for diehard bitterheads; most of you probably already make your own shit already anyway. But it would be a great gift for someone just getting into cocktails, or if you yourself are just getting into cocktails, it would be a great self-gift to give yourself for being such an awesome self.

Kick it.

How to write a book in 27 easy steps

One I’m particularly happy with…

If you’re considering writing a cocktail book, you’ve probably already started doing some research about how the process usually works. You probably already know, for example, that you should start by writing a book proposal. You then take the proposal to an agent (or two or three or ten) and shop it around. The agent, if he or she loves your proposal, will take it to a publisher (or three or ten) and negotiate your advance and residuals and so on. You’ll sign a contract, and then, at some point in this crazy process, you’ll have to sit down and actually write the thing. You’ll get a little money and eventually, you’ll see your book listed at Amazon and Powell’s.

That’s how it goes, say the experts. But let me tell you a funny story….

[Click over to Serious Eats for more.]

Incidentally, I have a LOT more to say about this entire process to date, so expect to see more, either here or at SE.

A Visit to Wild Turkey

If you ever visit the Wild Turkey distillery, do yourself a favor and arrive from the east. As you approach the distillery, U.S. Route 62 descends a hill through lush green woods, passes over a quarry on the banks of the Kentucky River, and takes a sharp left before riding the Blackburn Bridge over the river. As you approach the bridge, you can see buildings on a ridge in the near distance. These are warehouses and distillery buildings at Wild Turkey. Just beyond the highway bridge stands the remains of a railroad bridge, 283 feet above the river. The rail bridge is now out of service, but it formerly carried freight and passengers on what became the Norfolk Southern Railway, connecting all the Southern states. Passenger traffic ended in the 1930s, and freight stopped traversing the bridge about 50 years later, but for a time, the bridge carried grain into the Wild Turkey plant and finished bourbon back out.

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View of the two bridges, from the visitors’ center at Wild Turkey. (All images are clickable. Make ‘em big!)

I visited a couple of weeks ago. The purpose was twofold. Wild Turkey is opening a beautiful new visitors’ center, with stunning views of the river and its bluffs. The center itself is made of wood and glass, as you’d probably expect from a bourbon distillery. I failed to get a good exterior shot of the building, but it’s described as a cathedral to bourbon, and as you view the soaring ceilings, you’d probably agree.

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Ramp to upper level of the Wild Turkey visitors center.
Soaring ceiling
Soaring ceiling

In the tasting room is a large copper still that spans both floors of the visitors center, pulled out of production when the old distillery was torn down.

Copper still
Copper still
Low quality image of a rectifying plate within the still.
Low quality image of a rectifying plate within the still.

As impressive as all that is, though, the other reason for the visit is even better. 2014 marks master distiller Jimmy Russell’s 60th year at Wild Turkey. Can you imagine spending 60 years in one place? Jimmy can, and even after 60, he has no plans to retire.

Salt of the earth. Jimmy Russell.
Salt of the earth. Jimmy Russell.

Our visit ended with a cocktail reception, to launch the visitors center and pay homage to Jimmy. Among the VIPs were Kentucky governor Steve Beshear and brand reps and master distillers from other bourbon plants, including Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Woodford. The bourbon industry is pretty tight, and less personally competitive than you’d expect, so a guy like Jimmy has fans at rival distilleries. Jimmy’s family were there. His son Eddie is his right hand at Wild Turkey, even though Eddie only has 33 years tenure there and is still a relative novice compared to Dad. Jimmy’s other offspring were there, along with his grandkids and a few great-grandkids.

I felt honored being among his family and friends on such a great occasion. I’ve always loved Wild Turkey 101; it might be my favorite American whiskey. Being there for this celebration was a real treat.

We took a lengthy tour of the distillery. Those notes and photos will follow in another post.

Peter Heering Sling Award: You gotta be in it to win it

BARTENDERS, listen up.

This year’s Global Peter F Heering Sling Award is ramping up. The contest starts April 22, and here are the details…

First, start with the Singapore Sling. You know the one: gin, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, a hint of sugar, and a splash of soda. Doctor it up, and make your own interpretation of it. The drink must include Cherry Heering – no homemade syrups or other infusions are allowed.

Name the drink and take its picture. For a gold star, include the Heering bottle in the picture.

Starting April 22, you’ll be able to enter the drink at Heering.com, or on the company’s Facebook page. Registration ends May 25. One winner per country will be announced in early June. The quarter-finals will take place on Facebook, where the public will vote for their favorites. Then a jury will select 15 semi-finalists, who will receive a tablet computer.

The semi-finals will take place in London in mid-August. Five finalists will then move on to Berlin in early October. All finalists will receive a trip to Berlin for the finals. The winner gets 500 euros, a fancy cocktail shaker, and the adulation of the masses.