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Bartending tips from days of old

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What's old is new again, and nowhere is that more true than in the cocktail world. 

New twists on classic cocktails are popping up everywhere, but most of us haven't even figured out how to make them sans twists yet. Luckily, the bartenders of yore have reached forward in time to give us invaluable advice on mixing these drinks of yesteryear.

And publishers looking to capitalize on the cocktail craze have reached back to the of bartenders at the turn of last century to reprint some of the most storied mixology guides. Long before every bartender with a retro-styled vest and an overblown mustache called themselves mixologists, these tomes were already filled with tips for a profession known for reinvention, and reprinting these is akin to unearthing the Rosetta Stone.

While the origins, and even the original recipes of cocktails that have become classics are often shrouded in mystery and spark arguments as to proportions, ingredients and measurements, these books are as close to the definitive answer as is possible to get in many cases. It's not always the tastiest version, but it's certainly going to be one of the most authentic.

We put three of these reissued guides to the test to see which one delivers the goods and turns even the most mild-mannered Chardonnay sipper into a bitters slinging machine.

Daly's Bartenders' Encyclopedia 

Printed in 1903 for the bargain price of 50 cents, Daly's Bartender's Encyclopedia was written by Tim Daly.  He chronicles his experiences of 20 years behind the bar – a career that kicked off in 1883, not all that long after the advent of the cocktail. And it shows. Daly focuses heavily on tips and tricks for those working behind the bar, from how the trays should be cleaned to how best to store bottles to prevent corks from drying out. But once past the introductory advice, Daly drills down into the meat of the matter – cocktails.  

He delivers a beautiful glimpse of drinking habits of yesteryear. From Beef Tea to Egg Lemonade, there's a long list of recipes meant to fortify, impart strength and vigor and “avoidance of unpleasant consequences.”

Interestingly though, his recipe for one of the most classic cocktails of them all, the martini.  He breaks from what most consider tradition and uses Old Tom gin, a sweeter version of the breed. That theme continues throughout, with slightly different spins on what most consider the classics. 

Where the book truly shines, however, is in its warm drinks. With recipes like the Hot Gin Sling and Hot Irish Whiskey Punch, it's a book to keep close at hand until the Spring hits.

The Complete Bartender: The Art of Mixing Cocktails, Punches, Egg Noggs, Smashes, Sangarees, Slings, Cobblers, The Fizz, Juleps, Flips, Toddys, Crustas, and All Plain and Fancy Drinks, in the Most Approved Style

Apparently the late 1800s were not only a time of great change, they were also one of the wordiest eras on record. That incredibly lengthy title graces the cover of the 1884 bartender's guide by Albert Barnes. A relatively short tome at 64 pages, it nonetheless packs in a fairly ridiculous amount of information in a pamphlet-like space. Barnes, who manned the bar at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York City, wastes no time in getting right in to what he perceives as the most important part of the mix, the recipes. And what a list he compiled. Drinks not seen on menus for decades grace these pages, organized by the types laid out so painstakingly in the title.

Where it gets truly interesting, however, is in the recipes Barnes lays out for creating flavored brandies and even a sweetened concentrated gin. Of course, making those recipes could involve a few Google searches as intrepid home bartenders attempt to figure out exactly how much liquid is in a gill (about one quarter of a pint) or drachm(1/16 of an ounce). 

It's well worth pushing through and making a few test batches. And if you have to drink a few not quite right cocktails in the name of science, thus defying #11 of Barnes' Bartenders' Maxims – “drink as little as possible behind your own bar,” that's not such a horrible thing.

The Bartender's Guide: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion (1862 Edition) 

The granddaddy of all bartenders' guides and the one currently most mined for inspiration by the world's top bartenders.  Jerry Thomas' encyclopedic guide to the world of cocktails was one of the first cocktail guides ever published in the United States and its 258 pages were exhaustively researched. 

One of the best bartenders of his day, Thomas earned a stratospheric $100 per week at one point and did more to popularize the drinks of the day than any other mixologist of his day, or even most from today.

The Bartender's Guide has been reprinted so many times, for good reason. 

It's the definitive guide to classic cocktails – coming as close as possible to the original version of each drink. It is, however, geared to the working bartender, with batch sizes in the gallons for example mint cordial and gin punch, among many others. 

But home and pro cocktail fans can benefit from the tips and tricks within these pages – even whipping together their own bitters based on the directions Thomas lays out. 

These tried and true recipes have stood the test of a century and a half, and while tastes have changed, few can argue with a drink mixed perfectly from this guide. It belongs on every mixologist's bookshelf, from amateur to pro.