A founding member of The Museum of the American Cocktail and founding partner in Beverage Alcohol Resource, the nation’s premiere training program for spirits and cocktails, David Wondrich also currently serves as a contributing editor at Saveur and writes for Esquire, as well as for a dozen other publications. In addition to Imbibe! and Punch, Wondrich has written Esquire Drinks and Killer Cocktails, won the Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Award for Best Drinks Book and a James Beard award (his being the first cocktail book to ever do so). He’s also written a book on the evolution of American music.
01) What inspired your interest in cocktails?
I guess the answer to that is twofold. One, they contain alcohol and taste good. I like things that contain alcohol, and everybody likes things that taste good. Two, there are an awful lot of great stories connected with cocktails, full of clever talk and wild, sporty antics. I like that sort of thing, too.
02) What was your first formative cocktail experience?
Okay, it could have been the miniature plastic cocktail set I bought at an Italian flea market when I was about 8, just the right size for my G.I. Joes. At least they got cocktails after a long day of being thrown off the roof in the hope that their plastic-bag parachutes would open.
03) What is your all-time favorite mixed drink?
The one I’ve got in front of me on the bar.
04) Favorite place to drink?
Where my friends are. And if they’re at Tujague’s, in New Orleans, so much the better.
05) If you don’t know the bartender, what do you order?
I pretty much always know the bartender, unless it’s a shot-and-a-beer joint, in which case I will order a shot and a beer.
06) If you could make any drink with the 12 Bottles, what would you make?
Right now, I’d probably try a Blackthorn (Irish whiskey, dry vermouth, bitters, absinthe, orange twist). It should have orange bitters, but is pretty good without. But ask me again and my answer will be different. A bowl of cognac-rum Punch is pretty damn tasty as well.
07) If you could replace any one bottle with another, what switch would you make? And why?
I won’t quibble about brands—de gustibus non est disputandum—but I will ditch the absinthe and get some damn tequila in there—say, a bottle of El Tesoro. I’d have to sacrifice the Sazerac, which is painful, but as long as I’m doing that I might as well ditch the Peychaud’s and put in a bottle of good champagne.
08) Outside of the 12 Bottles, what should people make an effort to try?
Scotches and Japanese whiskies; Ports, sherries, Madeiras; amari, aperitivi and digestive; cachacas and piscos, mescals and arracks—in short, everything! There’s a wide world of booze out there, and until you try Ugandan banana gin or cashew fenny from Goa, you don’t know for a fact that you’ll find it nasty. People used to think tequila was nasty.
09) If you could only have one mixed drink for the rest of your life, which would it be?
What’s my choice? Have one mixed drink or you shoot me? I’d say shoot.
10) With whom (living, deceased, or fictional) would you like to most share a drink?
William Shakespeare might be fun. Ovid, too. Dickens would probably be a bit preoccupied, Samuel Johnson a bit of a blowhard and Jerry Thomas the type who seduces you into doing things against your better nature. But they’d all be cool too. Right now, though, I’m 3000 miles from home as I write this and the one person I’d most like to have a drink with is my wife, Karen.
11) On which one item should the home bartender splurge?
Friends. When people are coming over, don’t be cheap. Whatever you’re making for them, don’t lowball them or cut any corners. It’s not “just as good,” and even if you’re the only one who can tell the difference, you don’t want to be that person.
12) One piece of advice for the home bartender…
Get more ice.
- Book Review: PUNCH by David Wondrich Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits (thekitchn.com)
- Q&A with cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, author of ‘Punch’ (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The Quaff That Painted the Map Red (online.wsj.com)