The cocktail revival is now pretty long in the tooth. Ask kids who are just coming of drinking age and they’re probably not even aware there was a revival; it’s just always been this way, with crystalline craft ice blocks in every glass and Moscow Mule copper mugs hanging behind every bar.
As for the rest of us, a lot has changed—and changed quickly. We’ve got the art of the craft cocktail down to a science today, which means that what we thought of and embraced as the apex of cocktail art back in, say 2003, can look pretty naïve and incomplete in retrospect.
That time warp goes for cocktail writing as well. In recent years, a number of the seminal works on cocktail and spirits history that were written in the 2000s began to read like they were, well, written in the 2000s. In other words, a lot has happened behind bars and in distilleries in the past decade, leaving once-authoritative volumes looking a little creaky.
A few of the authors of those towering titles began to tinker with their original words. The trend arguably began in 2015, when David Wondrich came out with a new version of his weighty history of cocktailing in America, Imbibe!. Already an exhaustive study, Wondrich exhausted it further by adding 50 more pages of knowledge and news he had accrued in the eight years since the initial publication date.
But, with 2017 and 2018, came the deluge; at least three leading cocktail sages returned to their earlier tomes, whipped them into fighting trim and re-released them into the wild. These include the brand-new, expanded editions of The Joy of Mixology, a comprehensive study of the bartending art by Gary Regan (first published in 2003); And a Bottle of Rum, an eye-opening treatise by Wayne Curtis on how the spirit played a key role in the shaping and history of the American republic (2006); and Sippin’ Safari, a trail-blazing tiki history by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (2007). (Coming up in 2020 is yet another major update of a classic work: Dale DeGroff’s 2002 classic The Craft of the Cocktail, published by Clarkson Potter.)
Berry felt the itch to update earliest, less than two years after Safari came out. When he wrote the book, tiki culture was a dead duck and the text was appropriately backward-looking in tone. By 2009, however, tiki was amid a revival.
“Today, tiki is totally legit again,” says Berry, “and with every passing year of this new golden age, Sippin’ Safari seemed less and less in touch with that.”
Berry tackled the situation by adding a 27-page preface that dives deep into the tiki detective work that led him to write the first edition. This was added because, as Berry puts it, “cocktail geeks got a whole lot geekier” in the ten years since the first edition; they’re now interested in such minutiae. Also new is a 29-page afterward that chronicles the explosion of tiki activity that has occurred since the book came out, as well as 14 previously unpublished, vintage drink recipes.
(Adding an ironic touch to the Safari update is the fact that the book itself was partly responsible for the tiki revolution that the new edition takes pains to address. According to Berry, several prominent tiki revivalists were directly inspired by his book to open new bars of their own.)
Like Berry, when Curtis wrote And a Bottle of Rum, he was covering a topic that few people were expending a lot of brain power on at the time. No longer: From distillery to bar to drinker, a rum revolution has gripped the world.
“About three or four years ago, I started feeling parts of the book were no longer telling the current story of rum very well, and needed some sprucing up,” explains Curtis. “Other rum books were coming out, and I thought that for mine to stay current I should bring it up-to-date.”
The final chapter of the book, which assessed the current state of rum, received particular attention from Curtis. When he composed it, there were only two craft distillers producing rum in the United States. “As of earlier this year, I counted 217 craft distillers in the rum game,” he says. He also revamped the appendix’s list of recommended rums to reflect changes in the industry, and gave the cocktail recipes a thorough going over, also adding a few new ones—like the Jungle Bird, a tiki drink from the 1970s that was nowhere to be found in 2006, but is ubiquitous today.
Berry and Curtis were self-starters when it came to revising their books. Regan’s motivation for returning to The Joy of Mixology came from the outside; beginning in early 2016, his editor started nagging him for an update. While Regan considered a good deal of the book as relevant as the day it was written—especially the various pieces of professional advice for bartenders—he knew the history section and the recipe section needed revamping.
“I was always embarrassed about the recipe chapter in the 2003 edition, but I’m as proud as punch of the updated recipe chapter,” says Regan.
The initial book was perhaps most renowned for Regan’s novel method of dividing cocktails into various families, such as “French-Italian Drinks” (which include a spirit and vermouth) and “New Orleans Sours” (spirit, citrus and orange liqueur). For the new edition, he tacked on an additional category, “Enhanced Sours,” explaining in the text, “over the past, say, ten years, enough Sours calling for vermouth have appeared in the bars of the world to justify this brand-new family.”
All three authors evinced satisfaction over the results of their renewed labors. But for Curtis, the experience of revisiting words he has written at an earlier time in his life came with an unexpected side-effect.
“Sometimes it felt like I was on a first date with an less-mature version of myself,” he says, “which was awkward.”
The Updates At a Glance
And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis
“A freshening up,” as opposed to a revamp, bringing the text up to date, according to Curtis.
Original Release: July 25, 2006
Updated Edition Release: June 5, 2018
Added: A beefed-up final chapter looking at rum’s recent evolution, as well as a revamped list of recommended rums in the appendix and some new recipes.
Removed: Some “fanboy fawning” over certain rum brands that no longer merit the love, says Curtis.
Most Notable Change / What to Look For: A look at how things have changed for the better in craft rum distilling.
Sippin’ Safari by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry
A major updating of the text, delivered within a handsome new hardcover design.
Original Release: July 19, 2007
Updated Edition Release: September 1, 2017
Added: An extensive preface and afterword and 14 new “lost” tiki recipes. Some were cut from the first edition for length, while others weren’t included because back then Berry hadn’t yet figured out how to decode them.
Removed: Old information that has been outdated by new research Berry has done over the past decade.
Most Notable Change / What to Look For: Berry discovered tiki founder Donn Beach was not born in New Orleans, as previously thought, but tiny Mexia, Texas, which can now boast of a better class of most-famous-resident than Anna Nicole Smith.
The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan
An overhaul of the history and recipes sections of the classic how-to manual.
Original Release: October 14th, 2003
Updated Edition Release: August 28, 2018
Added: Significant additions to the cocktail history and recipes sections.
Removed: A whopping 50 percent of the recipes, which Regan deemed outdated. “No more Bay Breeze,” he said.
Most Notable Change / What to Look For: A new family of cocktail recipes called “Enhanced Sours.”
The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff
A revised edition of DeGroff’s book, an important recipe source in the early days of the cocktail revival.
Original Release: October 15, 2002
Updated Edition Release: Expected fall 2020
Added: New recipes culled from DeGroff’s fellow bartenders and some additional history.
Removed: The book’s previous design.
Most Notable Change / What to Look For: New photos of all the drinks.