Perhaps the phrase "Brooklyn bartender" evokes a certain image: the penny farthing–riding fellow with his twirly mustache and buttoned-up vest, sliding a "bespoke" cocktail menu across the bar, shaking each precious concoction with one ice cube. But Brooklyn Bartender, the new cocktail book from my good friend (and former boss) Carey Jones, is anything but stuffy. It celebrates the fun to be had in Brooklyn, and, more importantly, gives you the tools to bring that fun home.
Fun, Jones argues, is what sets the best Brooklyn bars apart. In the mid-2000s in downtown Manhattan, Jones writes, "Trailblazing cocktail bars were meticulous in their craft, fighting hard to differentiate themselves from their less sophisticated counterparts." But, while these temples to mixology were having their moment, more and more young drinkers were moving to Brooklyn, and needed a place there for a good cocktail and a good time. "Many barfolk crossing the bridge sought to create a different kind of establishment—with the comfort and camaraderie, and frankly, fun of a less formal bar," but with drinks made to the latest high-quality standards.
I'm plotting a cocktail crawl to check out some of the 25 recommended joints profiled in the book, but in the meantime, the hundreds of recipes Jones includes are keeping me busy. Every cocktail I've made so far has been delicious and smartly designed. Each drink is unusual and complex, but not muddled in flavor; the kind of thing you'd be excited to receive at a fancy bar, but even more pleased to shake up yourself. And you can make them: The drinks she's selected aren't dumbed down at all, but, for the most part, you're not looking at mile-long ingredient lists, either. Exact brand names are included so you can end up with the precise balance the bar director intended (though you might need to go shopping to make it happen, unless you've already got a pretty sizable booze collection).
Right now, my copy of the book is filled with tiny slips of paper marking pages to come back to—doesn't a frozen gin and tonic sound good? And a mix of mezcal and amaro with lime? A michelada made with the juice poured from a jar of kimchi? It's gonna take me a while to make them all.
Here are my favorites so far: three easy cocktails that will make you feel like a pro.
The whiskey sour had its dark days, all jacked up on fluorescent sour mix and candied fruit. But this fresh and aromatic drink from Jay Zimmerman, of ba'sik in Williamsburg, shows that the general model is worth reclaiming. Made with bourbon, fresh lemon, and citrusy Montenegro Amaro, it's sweetened with grapefruit liqueur. And ultimately, what you get is a well-rounded picture of grapefruit, its sweet side enriched with vanilla-laced whiskey and its natural bitterness punched up with the amaro. This tangy cocktail will be my go-to whiskey drink this summer.
Even fancy whisky wants to loosen up every once in a while, and Brooklyn Bartender shows you how best to use your Scotch in cocktails. If you're a lover of peaty, earthy Scotch, you might want to start with this spirituous drink from Maks Pazuniak at Jupiter Disco in Bushwick. It begins with a long pour of great aged rum, sweetened with herbal Bénédictine and spiced with Angostura and an absinthe rinse. The key to the cocktail's unusual leathery and savory taste: stirring in vegetal Cynar and a little Scotch. With Laphroaig in the mix, the finish of this drink lingers, half meaty bacon, half fresh green herbs.
I keep remaking this Daiquiri variation, from Justin Olsen of Bearded Lady in Prospect Heights, not because it needs more testing before I share it but because I want to keep drinking it, night after night. There's nothing complicated about the recipe, but small tweaks to the classic combination of rum, lime, and sugar make this drink truly compelling.
For the rum base, the gold Flor de Caña 4 Year that Olsen calls for works great, though I also like a crisp, focused version made with white rum. Even better: a slightly funky, super-complex Mr. Howell with Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva Rum, which is made in copper pot stills and aged up to 12 years in small oak casks. The bright, tart drink gets a bass note of rich sweetness from maple syrup instead of sugar, and there's that Scotch again: The crowning touch is a smoky whiff of Laphroaig.