The One-Bottle Cocktail by Maggie Hoffman
My husband has long wished I would whip up a cocktail along with dinner every night. And I have long demurred. Too much time. Too much measuring. And above all, too many esoteric liqueurs to research and buy and keep. Who needs it? I’d just as soon open a nice bottle of wine.
But while imbibing at my favorite local haunt, the one with the best cocktails in town, the chatty bartender steered me toward esteemed beverage writer Maggie Hoffman’s first book. Turns out, it is just what the couples therapist ordered.
Hoffman’s “The One-Bottle Cocktail: More than 80 Recipes with Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit” is the antidote to my home bar resistance: easy to follow recipes made with real food ingredients and one bottle of booze. Can I squeeze a lime, pour a jigger of rum and give my glass a good stir? Why yes, yes I can.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I sampled several of Hoffman’s drinks. I learned to make simple syrup from honey and from maple. I snipped fennel fronds and muddled strawberries, sought out blood oranges and aloe vera juice, all while grinding celery seeds and toasting sesame seeds.
Which has been a fascinating crash course in herbs, spices and fruits and veggies, their aromas and textures and pairings. It’s an education that will serve me well when pulling off salad dressings and designing sophisticated desserts, in addition to crafting cocktails.
This is my kind of shaking and stirring, beverage building that starts on a cutting board and with a mortar and pestle. Thumbing through other cocktail recipe books makes me appreciate the many bitters, amaro and liqueurs I did not purchase to make my half-dozen mixed drinks.
Not to say these cocktails are easy to create. Each one is an exercise in meticulous measuring. If you do not have basic bar tools on hand (which Hoffman helpfully recommends in her introduction), every task is monumentally harder. As it turns out, there is much less involved in pouring a few liquids together than juicing veggies and processing purees.
But I do appreciate the concept: Walk out of the liquor store with one bottle and build the complex layers of your cocktail with essences that come from easily acquired — and easily repurposed — food. And I cannot deny that each of my homemade cocktails was a delight to the eye as well as the palate.
Hoffman’s voice — familiar to many as founder of the drinks section of the James Beard Award-winning website “Serious Eats” — is that of a knowledgeable companion. The Rose of All Roses recipe calls for “2 drops rose water (be careful, don’t add more!)” And from her description of Tamarindo Aguas Frescas: “The best cocktails have a bit of mystery, with layers of flavors that unfold and keep you guessing.”
Each recipe is introduced with a description and an acknowledgment of the bartender who dreamt up the concoction.
Also helpful are the Bonus Drinks section at the end of each chapter, which suggests ways to substitute the spirit in your beverage, allowing for even more possibilities with your one bottle.
The more I delved into The One-Bottle Cocktail, the more I wanted to try. Like the mocktail version of a radicchio-based Boulevardier. Or the kombucha-infused rum punch, She’s My Cherry Pie.
Of the cocktails I did bring into being, the Tiburon was my hands-down favorite. It’s essentially a margarita made with lime, tequila, honey syrup and Tabasco. It was balanced, uncomplicated and delicious. Boogie Nights was also nice — another tequila drink that combined strawberries and the anise flavors of fennel.
So, will I be double straining and garnishing before I dine with hubby on weeknights now? Not likely. It’s still easier to uncork that Pinot Grigio. But will I have a go-to guide for special occasions? Indeed. And quite a creative one at that.