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Essential reading for mixologists
on November 9, 2010
The cocktail renaissance has been about the rediscovery and evangelism of the history, technique, achievements, personalities, arcana and culture of roughly 200 years of American mixed drink tradition (and, to be fair, its evolutionary strains in other parts of the world). The last fifteen years has delivered a growing stream of new books on the topic. Most fall into the evangelism category, some into the rediscovery category and some are just noise. Atop the rediscovery category--the domain of scholarly work--rest a tidy handful of books that can be termed revelatory. David Wondrich's Imbibe! is a particularly prominent example, to which I would add--in no particular order--Jeff Berry's Sippin' Safari, Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology, Lowell Edmund's Martini, Straight Up, Wayne Curtis' ...and a Bottle of Rum, Dale DeGroff's Craft of the Cocktail, and Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. I'm sure I'm unintentionally omitting some peers, but I'm equally sure these are as essential reading as exists.
To this list we can now add Darcy O'Neil's Fix the Pumps. Rather than being a book about cocktails, Fix the Pumps addresses the topic of the pharmacy soda fountain, the history of which is contemporary with, closely parallel to, and frequently intersects with that of the bar and the mixed drink. As O'Neil documents, the soda fountain was the cocktail's equally reprobate and mercurial cousin. Quite simply, reading Fix the Pumps will plug a gaping hole in your perspective that you most likely didn't even know existed.
The book is concise. The core historical portion fits within about fifty pages and makes no attempt to be exhaustive. Rather, it erects a framework of essential facts with enough details to establish character before plunging into another hundred fifty pages of practical matter (e.g., how to properly produce soda water or concoct a true egg cream) and recipes for syrups, chemical additives, and other flavorings essential to the pharmacies of yore and, in many cases, adjunct to practitioners of today's cocktail renaissance.