"Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow."--Maria Mitchell, American astronomer
If you're anything like me, once you become passionate about something, you have a strong desire to learn as much about that something as you can. Some people might call me a nerd. Sure, there is something to be said for artistic intuition and natural talent, and there isn't a field of study for everything--abstract expressionist painting or a sense of humor, for instance--but when it comes to having a craft, such as writing or making cocktails, well, I come from the school of thought that you can never have too much school for your thoughts (although we should all get outside more and learn from nature, too).
I'll never forget the time I met Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown a year and a half ago at a Sagatiba tasting at Brandy Library. Spirits and drinks historians whose books include "Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini," "The Soul of Brasil," and "Cuba: The Legend of Rum," the couple travels the world to uncover the secrets behind the history of drinking. They are also the directors of Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux in Southern France. [In short, they are my idols.] Dave Wondrich, author of "Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash," also made a similar impression on me last year. These writers have managed to make a living by constantly seeking to quench their thirst for knowledge of drink-making of the past, present, and future.
Most cocktail enthusiasts consider themselves geeks and are in a constant state of study. So if you have a few of those types on your holiday shopping list, why not drop some knowledge on them and give them a gift that will last a lifetime? Here are some suggestions:
"The Bartender’s Gin Compendium" by Gaz Regan navigates the world of gin, from its roots as genever to the prominent brands of today.
"The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in American from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet" by Garrett Peck charts the shift in social attitiudes towards drinking since the days of Prohibition and includes lots of facts on how we drink today.
Spirituous Journey: Book One" by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller is one of the most thoroughly-researched looks at the birth of spirits and the distillation process, from China, to India, to Persia, through Europe and onto the New World.
"Lush Life: Portraits from the Bar" by author/illustrator Jill DeGroff is not only a stunning collection of her caricatures of who's who in the world of bartending, but the book also includes colorful stories and classic recipes.
Imbibe Magazine is the premiere publication on liquid culture and the art of drinking, and is must-have for anyone in the cocktail industry.
Astor Center's classes on cocktail-making and spirits history are an excellent resource for cocktailians in NYC. Gift certificates are available to cover the cost of the sessions.
And last but not least, BarSmarts Wired is an online version of the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource) program developed by the leading mixologists in the industry. For $45, students receive educational DVDs, a workbook, and a bar tool kit, and earn certification once they pass the class, which takes about four weeks.