Stew Ellington is a Bay-area designer, photographer and cocktail enthusiast. He wasn't a huge cocktail drinker before embarking on writing a book chronicling 1000 cocktails. "I'd usually order a beer at a bar. If I ordered a cocktail, it was a Bahama Breeze or a Jack and Ginger, which of course I totally turn my nose up at now." Ellington spent over three years testing, tasting and creating cocktails. Through a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, thousands of photographs, several spreadsheets, and about 10 pounds of weight gain, Ellington self-published 901 Very Good Cocktails, an exhaustive resource for any home bar enthusiast.
The book is spiral-bound and printed on gloss-varnished paper, perfect for splashing and spilling ingredients on the pages within. Cocktails are organized into 68 different lists, in addition to an alphabetical listing of all recipes. Want a cocktail perfect for a cold day or hot day? There's a list for that. Want something fizzy, tart, simple, punchy, highbrow, lowbrow, or complicated? There are lists for those too. There is a list of the Manhattan's progeny, and a list of negroni-inspired cocktails too.
When asked today what Ellington's go-to cocktail choice is, it's no longer a Bahama Breeze. "I believe the two end-all, be-all ultimate cocktails of all time are the Manhattan and old fashioned," he replied. "The cool thing about the old fashioned is it's probably the 'original' cocktail, dating from the early-to-mid-1800s, and it's still one of the very best cocktails in existence. I'll take one every time. The Manhattan dates from around 1880 and is also still one of the greatest cocktail successes ever. I tend to favor cocktails that elaborate on, and arguably improve upon, the Manhattan. A notable example is Something Bitter This Way Comes, created by Chuck Taggart, which includes rye, CioCiaro, sweet vermouth, Fernet-Branca, Xocolatl Mole bitters, and a pinch of kosher salt." Clearly, Ellington's tastes have improved since he began this project.
In the introduction of 901 Very Good Cocktails, Ellington gives you his "Just 10 Rules" for mixing drinks, such as how to read his recipes, how to make simple syrup, and a bit on making twists. For specifics on muddling, flaming, shaking, and straining however, Ellington refers readers to YouTube. The intro also includes tips for building your liquor cabinet, in addition to brand recommendations, recommended tools and glassware.
The 901 cocktail recipes are listed alphabetically and rated by stars and a color-coded system. There are only 4-star, 4 ½ and 5 star cocktails included. Elllington's original list of over 1,000 got edited down some after mixing and tasting an average of two cocktails a day for over two years. There are classic cocktails, Ellington's original creations and contributions from bartenders across the country, including some of Seattle's finest. There's the Tuscan Rosemary Lemon Drop by Kathy Casey, the Frisco and others by Murray Stenson, Dirt & Diesel by Cale Green, La Bicyclette among others from Jamie Boudreau, and more.
In the appendix, drinks are organized by ingredient or spirit, a useful resource when you have say, some orgeat to use up, or some Old Tom Gin you want to experiment with. Through the process of writing this book, Ellington kept track of all the cocktails, ingredients and recipes on spreadsheets. During the project, he learned some of the most popular ingredients used in cocktails. "By far, lemon juice and lime juice are the most widely used ingredients in cocktails," Ellington shared. "Gin is the most-used spirit, by a mile. That surprised me at first, however vodka hasn't been around as long. Gin has been around for hundreds of years."
Ellington says he learned "everything" through the process of writing 901 Very Good Cocktails. "Four years ago, I knew very little about cocktails. I decided I needed to know everything I could about mixology and the rest is an obsessive love story. My mixing project took somewhere between two and three years, and I'm actually still doing it, preparing for my next book." Until then, get your hands on 901 Very Good Cocktails and start mixing up your own cocktails at home.