The Cocktail Chronicles by Paul Clarke: Book Review

by | Aug 17, 2015 | Book Reviews | 0 comments

I first came across Paul Clarke thanks to his long-dusty blog, The Cocktail Chronicles. Wondering what could convince someone to leave a blog like that behind, I did a bit of research and found my answer – Clarke was writing for Imbibe Magazine (and as of 2014, is the Executive Editor.) I’ll forgive him for letting his blog go quiet!

So when The Cocktail Chronicles was released earlier this year, I was excited to see Clarke making his way into another form of published print. Our own copy arrived recently (thanks to Spring House Press) and I was very excited to see the final product – it truly is a beautiful book.

In the 1980’s the word “cocktail” was too often written next to other words like “Coke”, “sour mix”, and “artificial flavorings”. But starting slowly in the last couple decades of the twentieth century and quickly picking up the pace in the 21st, the Cocktail has come to mean something completely different. Words like “balanced”, “artisanal” and “craft” have found their way to the cocktail menu, and bartenders now know recipes a hundred years older than them.

In my opinion, the Cocktail Chronicles* is like a primer on “what the heck happened” between 1980 and 2015 to bring the cocktail culture to where it is today. For bartenders just making their way into craft bars and enthusiasts starting to dabble in the world of homemade classic drinks, this book is an excellent overview of how we got “here”.

Don’t discount this book as a (recent) history lesson, however. There’s a bit of that in the beginning, but Clarke takes his time throughout the book bringing the reader up to speed on all facets of the Craft cocktail “renaissance”:

  • An overview of basic cocktail technique and glassware to get the new bartender up to speed on the techniques they’ll need to sample the recipes in the following section
  • Recipes from the “Not Quite Forgotten” classics to what he calls “contemporary classics” that may have staying power – along with the stories and background of each
  • Finally an overview of the tools that go along with a well –equipped bar.

It may seem like this book is just another cocktail recipe book – with a bit of instruction at the end. But where Clarke sets himself apart is truly in the commentary and storytelling along the way. How many cocktail recipe books would include this comment about the Julep:

For much of the 19th century – until the Civil War blew everything to hell – the julep was likely the most popular dink in America, enjoyed as enthusiastically in Chicago and New York as in Richmond and Louisville.

Clarke brings his unique storytelling style to The Cocktail Chronicles and takes the reader along for the ride. Whether you’re new to the Craft Cocktail scene and looking to be brought “up to speed” or you’re someone who just appreciates a good drink and a great story, I think you’ll find it a fun, vibrant read.