Imagine taking a trip back in time to the days before Prohibition. In this era, bartenders like Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson preached the gospel of cocktails far and wide, and elevated the craft of tending bar to the highest heights. Flash forward to today, where you can learn from these masters and their peers, thanks in part to Greg Boehm at Mud Puddle Books. Greg will introduce you to seminal historical cocktail texts and provide you with hard-to-find ingredients and bar tools, all with a click of a mouse or a quick visit to his store.
Name: Greg Boehm
Occupation: Owner, Mud Puddle Books
Tell us about how Mud Puddle Books came to be. After we sold our family book publishing business about six years ago, I started Mud Puddle Books. Our main focus has been on children's books and gift sets. We starting publishing books about cocktails in 2008. As the third generation in publishing, Mud Puddle was not exactly a leap of faith.
Over the past several years as there has been a renewed interest in pre-Prohibition-era cocktails. How has that impacted your business? Without the current interest in pre-Prohibition cocktails, our current publishing program would not have be possible on many fronts--the audience would not have been there, and the lack of availability of ingredients would have made the books less useful.
For example, when I started collecting old cocktail books around eleven years ago, they were more like history lessons rather than practical guides. Many drinks used orange bitters which were no longer available. And the Internet was very limited. These days I have more than twenty commercially made bitters at home and any ingredient that I cannot buy, I can easily look up how to make it.
Then, of course, there are lots of people around sharing this interest--so you can discuss your recent discoveries. The new interest in old cocktails has helped our business cater to bartenders and home bartenders, since the books are actually useable.
How did you decide which classic cocktail books to reprint? We considered which books had practical information and truly had influenced bartenders and cocktails. (It also didn't hurt if I owned a copy, so we had something to scan.) The first six reproduction cocktail books that Mud Puddle published were heavy on advice from the great bartenders of the past--Jerry Thomas, Harry Johnson. Really only one book, Barflies & Cocktails by Harry McElhone, had a large number of recipes. Therefore, our second round of six books are much more recipe heavy. Hugo Ensslin's 1917 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks, for example, is the last major cocktail recipe book published before Prohibition; it's a great snapshot of drinks were being made then.
Is there a book you'd recommend to the aspiring home cocktail afficionado? David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks is the best book ever written about cocktail theory. It makes you think about each drink you mix, although his actual recipes tend to be too dry for most people. Harry Johnson's book will magically transport you back to great old days and Robert Vermeire's Cocktails: How to Mix Them is an amazing collection of recipes from 1922 which are mostly pre-Prohibition based.
Have you discovered any particular cocktail recipes that have now become favorites? A few not-so-famous cocktails that I have "discovered" in the books that we have republished:
- The Bijou I like to make is equal parts of Greylock Gin, Carpano Antica vermouth, green Chartreuse, a dash of Bitter Truth orange bitters, garnished with a cherry.
- Fluffy Ruffles is made with rum, Italian vermouth and lime rind.
- The Burnt Fuselage is simply equal parts of cognac, Grand Marnier and French vermouth.
Other than the recipes themselves, what do these particular books tell us about the pre-Prohibition era? About half of the cocktail books that we have republished are not recipe-focused. Harry Johnson offers sound 19th century advice on "How to Attend a Bar" and "Cocktail" Bill Boothby provides his "Ten Commandments" of bartending. It is also interesting to see what ingredients were common in days gone by. The books show that bartending was a respected profession before the Noble Experiment scattered the great bartenders across Europe and the world.
Your online store, CocktailKingdom, also sells hard to find bitters and barware--tell us about how you selected those products. The non-book items that we sell on CocktailKingdom are high-end barware and hard-to-find bitters. Much of the barware is from Japan; the rest, from Germany and the UK. It became obvious to us that many of the top bars in the United States were actually hand-carrying barware home from trips abroad. Even internet searches for online vendors of Japanese and top European barware were not very fruitful.
So, after talking with lots of bartenders, we decided to start importing barware--mixing glasses, barspoons and strainers better than what was available here. Options are always good for those behind the bar. The bitters we now carry, such as Bitter Truth from Germany and Amargo Chuncho form Peru, were a natural extension of our product line.
What are some of your favorite cocktails that are currently being made around the city, and where do you find them? My favorite drinks at the moment, in no particular order, are the Hispaniola at Death & Company, the Celery Nori Old Fashioned at Ssam Bar, the Talbot Leaf at PDT.
Favorite bagel? I am between bagel paces at the moment. I have been getting salt bagels from Murray's but I am still searching for something better.
Best late-night eats? Definitely pork buns at Momofuku Ssam Bar, since they now serve them until 2am.
Undiscovered gem (for a cocktail)? Eleven Madison Park is a four-star restaurant. However, the cocktail program is not as famous as it should be. I like to head there just for the cocktails (and maybe a bar snack or two).
What's in your fridge that you'd be embarrassed to tell us about? Egg whites in a carton. I use them in cocktails and so far I have not been able to detect a difference from the natural form but more research will follow.
Food you won't eat? Not a huge fan of offal, but I wouldn't say I don't eat it.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? I really don't have a go-to person for restaurants. [Ed. note: well, if you're in a pinch, try Serious Eats New York!]
Mud Puddle Books, 54 West 21st Street, Suite 601, 212-647-9168.