How’s Your Drink?

Eric Felton’s new book How’s Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well is one part history, one part cookbook, and two parts humor.

As the author of the Wall Street Journal column “How’s Your Drink?”(a column which was awarded a 2007 James Beard Foundation award for Best Newspaper writing on Wine, Spirits, or Beer), Felton knows a thing or three about drinking well; he’s crafted this knowledge into witty and intelligent prose that is not only a fitting tribute to the joys of civilized adult beverage consumption, but is a delight to read by the pool with a Martini, Old-Fashioned, or Cantarito in hand.

How’s Your Drink? weaves together a delightfully chatty history of cocktails from the giants of the field (Gin and Tonics, Manhattans) down to the kind of that would send the bartender scuttling nervously for the drinks Bible stashed somewhere beneath the bar(Dark and Stormy, Horse’s Neck).

Dozens of recipes are included. Cocktail aficionados should beware however: readers may find themselves (as I was) suddenly experiencing an overwhelming need to make an urgent trip to the local grocery or liquor store in order to whip up a Black Velvet, a Negroni, or a Smith and Curran and partake in a bit of living history, as it were. Show me a person who can make it through this book without reaching for the cocktail shaker and I’ll show you a Prohibitionist teetotaler.

Felton provides readers with a lifetime supply of fun facts to pull out at the next cocktail party. Who knew that Queen Elizabeth’s favorite adult beverage is a Dubonnet cocktail? Or that JFK, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and British nuclear physicist Sir William Penney quaffed Gin and Tonics while discussing how many bombs Russia would need to destroy the U.K.? Or how ice cubes came to be used in drinks? Or the history of the use of blenders in cocktails?

Felton is endearingly anal about the correct composition of drinks in the way that other people are touchy about, say, opposing viewpoints of politics or religion. Some may find his unequivocal condemnation of the recent rash of “candy-tinis” and Sex-in-the-City inspired Cosmopolitans a bit harsh, but it’s all in good fun and, as a woman who vastly prefers Gin and Tonics to Lemon Drops or sickly sweet neon-green glowing Apple Martinis, he really does give unadorned, good old-fashioned alcohol drenched cocktails a good defense.

While How’s Your Drink? is a lovely ode to the history and joys of mixed drinks, it is also a plaintive cry for a revival of classy, reputable watering holes. Most drinking establishments are either eardrum shatteringly karaoke-filled or otherwise somewhat seedy–the kind of place your mother always told you never to go. Felton’s book will make you long for the kind of place where you’d wear a dapper gray lounge suit and sit in a deep leather armchair reading the Times. Your drink would be expertly shaken or stirred by a bartender with a name like Nick or Charlie; he’d call you Sir (or Ma’am, as the case may be)and serve your Highball with a smile, a slick pompadour, and a straight-out-of-a-laundry-detergent-commercial white jacket complete with black bowtie.

Until then, enjoy How’s Your Drink? by the pool with an ice-cold glass of fire water in hand.

Surrey Books; 205 pages; $20.00