Northstar Cocktails

A cocktail book that presents a snapshot of the drinks ethos and cocktail style of the newly formed North Star Bartenders' Guild, itself representative of the American mid-west.

We're the first to admit that the cocktail bars and drinks style of Minnesota is a blind spot on our cocktail radar, but on the basis of what is claimed here, we should start by getting to know at least some of the 24 bartenders - or DrinkMakers (their preferred nomenclature) - who have contributed around 150 original recipes, as there's clearly a passion and dedication to the cause.

The lead author is Johnny Michaels, a former ice cream man turned award-winning bartender, clearly well known in the Twin Cities over a 20-year career and currently running La Belle Vie in Stillwater.

The recipes are a real mix, which on one level means if you don't like one bartender's drinks you've got 23 others to look at. That said, Johnny Michaels' drinks dominate the selection, and you might say that's a problem because he clearly has a particular taste for drinks with numerous ingredients.

Take The Celestian, for example. It contains 14 constituents, notching up gin, lime sour, egg white, Green Chartreuse, maraschino, peppermint schnapps, lime wedges, salt solution, cava, sour cherry syrup, gold and silver oils, a brandied cherry and a lime wheel, while the Grinch Nog contains bourbon (or rye), gin, maraschino, absinthe, lemon sour, three types of bitters, salt solution, a lemon wedge and a green maraschino cherry.

Michaels' predilection for such complexity is by no means unique and others show a similar preference for such complicated drinks, including the Eagle's Throne from Jourdan Gomez, which contains applejack, Cynar, Punt e Mes, anejo tequila, amaro, orange bitters, mezcal and grapefruit peel, or Rob Jones' All the Things... Flipped, which contains Fernet Branca, Green Chartreuse, Cynar, Simple Syrup, heavy cream, an egg and Angostura bitters.

Such drinks smack of competing and overly-complex flavours, lurid hues and, often, over-complicated garnishes, as some of the accompanying photographs show. The approach certainly contrasts with the shorter, simpler serves that are more on trend in the leading cocktail cities of the world.

There are, happily, many other recipes demonstrating a more judicious use of ingredients and shorter recipes, including a particularly interesting whiskey section, and some sensitive classic tequila twists. Clearly Amaro is popular in Minnesota, which is nice to hear.

An emphasis on bartenders as liquid chefs is well said, and happily is accompanied by recipes for all the homemade syrups, tinctures and other esoteric flavours - kosher 'salt solution' for example - and there are useful tips throughout, including for for storing vermouth (decanting into little bottles).

Overall, we are left rather sceptical about whether most of the recipes here are guilty of masking the flavour of the base spirit in each.

But it's nicely produced, and all royalties go to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International.

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