Update April 8, 2015: An updated edition of Imbibe! was released in 2015 and it contains many essential updates that were not known at the printing of this first edition. I highly recommend that you purchase the second edition for your library. Read the review...
The Bottom Line
Intelligent, entertaining and captivating, David Wondrich's Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar is a striking cocktail history book for anyone who wants to dive deep into the drinks of yesteryear.
It is evident within the first few pages that this historical account is one of the best researched books on its subject to date, and credit is due to Wondrich for pulling it out of some obviously obscure (and disputed) accounts of life behind the 19th century bar, its tastes, customs and (of course) cocktails.
- A lively, intelligent discussion of 19th century drinks and bartending.
- The most complete history available of the first "celebrity" bartender, Jerry Thomas.
- Original, classic recipes interpretted for today's ingredients and tastes.
- Similar cocktails referred to within text, but without a recipe, are bold for easy reference.
- Includes a "how it was done then" chapter about bartending in the 1800's.
- It's hard to put down the book and take in all the information in one read through.
- Written by Dr. David Wondrich, leading cocktail historian.
- Forward by Dale DeGroff, founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail.
- 303 pages, hardcover, includes over 100 classic cocktail recipes
- Published by the Penguin Group, 2007
- Retails for around $23.95
Guide Review - Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash
In Imbibe! David Wondrich takes a look at the life of "Professor" Jerry Thomas, the best known bartender of the 1800's and the author of the first bartending guide published, How to Mix Drinks (or The Bon Vivant's Companion, 1862).
Thomas was a colorful character behind the bar and responsible for creating or refining many classic cocktails, such as his flaming Blue Blazer and his preference for a rimmed cocktail glass for his Whiskey Cocktails. There is no doubt that Thomas was one of the biggest influences on modern mixology.
The manner in which Wondrich explains all of these punches, toddies, juleps, cocktails and fizzes is intriguing and filled with historical reference, banter and debates that grab you, hold you and keep you reading. Once you get through the Toddy debate and grasp that it and a sling are essentially the same drink (one hot, one cold), you're tossed into the Cocktails (including the real "Cocktail").. With each recipe he gives the original printed recipe via Thomas' books (or other sources) and interprets them for modern tastes and ingredients, including recommendations for recreating the tastes of the “old” cocktails using today’s spirits.
The appendices of Imbibe! are some of the most interesting and lively "extras" I've ever read in a book. One breaks down the theories behind the origin of the Martini (including the theory that the "Professor" himself was responsible), and another discusses the stories behind the naming of the cocktail.
The latter is a perfect example of the author’s voice, honesty, logic and knowledge found in the rest of the book. When breaking down the "Rooster Tail" theory, Wondrich contemplates why we are willing to accept such a theory: "...How would you react if someone stuck a feather yoinked from a bird's ass in your drink? Precisely."