The title of A. J. Rathbun's ebullient new book scintillates with promises of good things. Good Spirits delivers that scintillation, amusing and romancing the reader at every turn: there are a staggering 450 recipes in Good Spirits, revelations about the drinks we love, the romance of exotic and classic drinks and punches. But the promise we like best is "served with a twist." The twist may be lemon or lime in one of the cocktail recipes, but it is the wry twist of humor in this comprehensive and authoritative book that had us smiling before we even tried one of the libations. Rathbun is a poet and makes us wish that all poets were more strongly drawn to food and drink, just for the sheer pleasure of reading their words. This book is as enjoyable to read with a cup of tea as it is with one of its delicious cocktails in hand.
Rathbun understands the way we use mixed drinks, be they punches or classic cocktails. Rather than categorize under the type of liquor, he has created a thematic schema. He starts with a section entitled 'The Gold Standard' in which you can find the classics. Alphabetically arranged, he begins with the Alexander and the Bloody Mary, moves on through the Manhattan and the Margarita to end with the Whiskey Sour. For the hot days of summer, Rathbun has a section called "Cool it Down" and for winter when we need the warmth of a Hot Toddy or a Glögg, he has a section called "Turning up the Heat." There are categories such as "Collegiate Classics" which refer to that time of life as well as the subject-related, "A Multitude of Martinis." No drink has been missed, from the classic Christmas/New Year's Wassail bowl to a Gin Fizz for next-day revelers. And Rathbun creates his own drinks, most with humorous titles.
Rathbun loves a party, and it is in that celebratory mode that we see the most humor and wit. The book is packed with sidebars, even full-page lists, that give a hint to Rathbun's humor and his inventive new drinks. There are recommendations that there SHOULD be a party on the birthday of Babe Ruth, on the anniversary of the discovery of Pluto, on the day Kentucky outlawed dueling. Under the heading "Seven Party Planners," he has many party suggestions, among them 'Hang Loose Hawaiian Hoedown,' 'Halloween Spooktacular,' 'Croquet Celebration'. Each party has suggested drinks along with with ideas for snacks and music. Our favorite among these was 'St. Urho's Day Soiree,' a celebration of the day St. Urho drove a swarm of grasshoppers out of Finland. For this Rathbun suggests a Grasshopper as drink, and Grasshopper Pie to have on the side. Of course you will be listening to Lordi, the Finnish metal band.
You might prefer Rathbun's suggestions for "3 Third Date Drinks" which include 'Her Sarong Slipped,' 'Soul Kiss' and ''Between the Sheets.' The humor is exuberant as are the creative drinks. The wit is not relegated to sidebars only, but is included in the recipes. As only one of the many amusing instructions, the recipe for 'Night Cap Cocktail' ends with "Garnish only with a cutely lecherous look."
There are juicy tidbits about liquors and liqueurs, exuberant bar talk and party chatter. The book is packed with color photography to guide your eye.
Bravo to bards everywhere. May their humor reign, may their language rain.
About the author: A. J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertaining writer and the author of Party Drinks! His work has appeared in numerous national publications. A. J. also teaches mixology classes at cooking schools.