Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley have made a living from talking with spirits. The alcohol-based kind, that is.
The two curate the World’s Best Spirits website from London, featuring “in-depth reviews, news, distillery and product focuses, as well as bar and cocktail reviews (and) tasting notes.”
The expert imbibers – who help judge the annual World Whiskey Awards – demonstrate their expertise in “Distilled,” a comprehensive guide to “the best-crafted and most interesting” spirits they’ve encountered (Mitchell Beazley, $20, 224 pages). Also, the book serves as an introduction to spirits in general, a handy tool in this age of artisan cocktails. As they put it in the introduction, “We aim to act as your Sherpa up the mountain of distilled drinks.”
Cruising through it, we found a history of potables, types of distillation, flavor “maps,” and an explanation of why some liquors are “white” and others are dark (it’s from aging in wood casks). Next, we move to a how-to guide to sampling spirits, the contents of the ideal bar, recommended brands, and cocktail recipes. Interspersed are mini-interviews with some of the world’s maverick distillers.
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The heart of the book, though, is the spirt-by-spirit chapters, which include absinthe, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, whiskey, brandy, cognac and others. They’re informative (”London dry gin doesn’t have to be made in London”) and instructive (sip tequila and mezcal, don’t shoot them).
One particularly interesting recipe is for a cocktail calling for scotch, cherry brandy, vermouth, juice from a blood orange, and mint as garnish. We’re told its name, Peated Blood & Sand, is “from the 1922 Rudolf Valentino film of the same name.” Does it mean anything that the story is about a Spanish bullfighter?