Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Category: Beverage Book Review

Review: The Gin Dictionary

David T. Smith, The Gin Dictionary: An A-Z of All Things Gin from Juniper Berries to the G & T, (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2018), 256 pages, $19.99. ISBN: 9781784724894

International gin expert, David T. Smith has written four books on gin, is the author of the gin blog Summer Fruit Cup, contributed numerous articles on gin history, production and cocktails. In addition, Smith has taught numerous gin classes and seminars and consulted for several brands.  The Gin Dictionary: An A-Z of all things gin, from juniper berries to the G&T is Smith’s fifth book and an encapsulation of his deep passion and knowledge of all things gin.

As the title suggests, the book is a dictionary about gin, organized alphabetically and covering botanicals, gin brands, chemical compounds found in gin, cocktails, cocktail ingredients, flavor profiles, gin styles, history, production, as well as mixology terms and practices. The book is very thorough in its scope physically it is very lovely with a well textured hard cover and simple illustrations that supports the the content of the book. Physical appearance aside, The Gin Dictionary is a fantastic reference book for complete beginners and for experts.

For gin distillers, The Gin Dictionary can be both an excellent reference book and a potential item to sell to your guests in tasting rooms. The book contains about 200 entries which in the distillery can be a good source of inspiration to experiment with different production techniques or potential botanicals to add to a gin recipe. In the tasting room, The Gin Dictionary can be an excellent tool to educate your staff and your customers. Craft distillers have endless stories about how their gin has converted once gun shy customers to gin drinkers. Offering The Gin Dictionary at retail can continue their gin education once they leave which benefits everyone, because and educated gin drinker is likely to return to premium and craft gins for their next purchase.

First appeared in Distiller (Summer 2018): 215

Review: Rum Curious

Fred Minnick, Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World's Spirit, (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2017), 240 pages, $25.00. ISBN: 9780760351734

Fred Minnick is the author of seven books, three of which are about whiskey and the history of bourbon. His book Whiskey Women earned a Gold Medal at the ForeWord Reviews Book Awards and a Silver at the Indie Publisher Awards. Minnick serves as a judge for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the World Whiskies Awards. Minnick is also an Iraq War veteran where he served as a U.S. Army public affairs photojournalist.

Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World's Spirit is Minnick’s fifth book and the first he has written on the world’s most well know cane spirit. The book is meant as a consumer introduction to the history or rum, how it is made, the laws that govern rum, production information about several unaged, aged, and flavored rums, as well as recipes for well know rum cocktails. Overall the book provides good information and it is interesting to see ABV levels coming off the still and going into the barrel for a wide array of brands.

Minnick also joins the chorus of rum enthusiasts and experts advocating for a shift in the language that describes rum. For a long time, rum has been described simply by color, white, gold, and dark. However, a new movement is advancing the idea that rum categories, similarly to Scotch, should be labeled by production methods, pot still, pot-column still, and column still rum which ques the drinker into the flavor intensity of the spirit versus the color which can be manipulated with the addition of caramel coloring and have no relationship to age or intensity of flavor. This is an important conversation for US craft distillers to join. The US rum market is dominated by Bacardi and Captain Morgan, if small producers hope to shift the tide in their favor, it will be necessary to adopt common terminology.

First appeared in Distiller (Summer 2018): 215

Review: Calvados - The Spirit of Normandy

Charles Neal, Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy, (San Francisco: Board and Bench Publishing, 2011), 700 pages, $60.00. ISBN: 9780615446400

Charles Neal is the owner of Charles Neal Selections, an importer and distributor based in San Francisco, CA and the author of Armagnac:The Definitive Guide to France's Premier Brandy. Neal's most recent book is Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy. During the course of his research, Neal traveled extensively throughout France and conducted over 200 interviews with calvados producers in Normandy. This experience as well as his work writing Armagnac and import business makes Neal one the country's top proponents and experts on French spirits.

At over 700 pages Calvados is not just a thorough catalog of calvados producers, but an attempt to understand calvados by contextualizing it in the place that it comes from. Neal begins the book with a social and ecological history of Normandy, a survey of how calvados is made, how to read calvados labels and age statements. From there, Neal divides his producer profiles into three major sections: agricultural producers, who are farm distillers who manage their own orchards, ferments his own cider and distills it; Industrial Producers, who are incorporated businesses that by in large purchase the majority of their fruit from other growers and distill and blend the majority of their own distillate; and, Negociants, who purchase 100% of their distillate from other producers, but age, blend and bottle the calvados in house.

For a variety of market reasons, American drinkers are beginning to show more interest in drinking brandy whether neat or in a cocktail. Neal's Calvados can be an instructive guide for both consumers and for US distillers who are interested in learning how some of the world's best apple brandy is made. Neal outlines a variety of techniques that craft distillers can emulate though there are some disadvantages that will not be overcome quickly. Because of a lack of demand, US apple grower have largely torn out the old varieties of cider apples that once filled American orchards. Like with non-GMO and heirloom varieties or grain, craft distillers can partner with local growers to replant the cider varieties needed to make complex, flavorful and interesting apple brandy that can withstand the test of time.

First appeared in Distiller (Winter 2017/18): 175

Review: The Soul of Brasil

Anastasia Miller and Jared Brown, The Soul of Brasil, (United Kingdom: Jared Brown, 2008), 188 pages, $17.95. ISBN: 9780976093770

Since 1992, Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown have been writing, speaking and teaching about the history of cocktails and spirits. Together they have written more than a dozen books on Champagne, vermouth, cocktails, and spirits as well as articles for Imbibe, Wine Spectator, and the Financial Times. In 2009, Brown became the head distiller at Sipsmith in London and he has helped to develop spirits in Sweden, Norway, Vietnam and the US.

In 2008, Miller and Brown wrote The Soul of Brasil, which is a short history of distillation, of Brazil, and the important cultural role cachaça plays in that country. While the book seems to have been sponsored by the cachaça distillery Sagatiba, it is very well written, and serves as a good introduction to the world's ninth largest spirits category. The book is broken down into two parts; part one traces the history of beverage alcohol since 7000 BC, European conquest of the New World, the creation of cachaça, its decline in popularity and its resurgence. In part two, Miller and Brown describe what makes cachaça unique, how it is made, its categories and flavors, as well as popular food and drink combinations.

Despite the fact that Brazil only exports about 1% of the 1.5 billion liters of cachaça sold each year, the story of cachaça is interesting for other small distillers. Though approximately one-third of the cachaça market is controlled by one brand, more than 30,000 cachaça distillers exist in Brazil. These local micro-distillers are able to remain relevant by fully embracing the local music, dance, food, and drinks of their region. By becoming enmeshed in the community, their community has a reason to buy their spirit over the national brands.

First appeared in Distiller (Winter 2017/18): 175

Review: Shots of Knowledge The Science of Whiskey

Rob Arnold and Eric Simanek, Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey, (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2016), 160 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780875656540

Rob Arnold and Eric Simanek are the authors of Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey. Arnold was born in Louisville and is the third generation of his family to be in the whiskey business. He is the head distiller at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company and a Ph.D. candidate in plant breeding at Texas A&M University. Simanek is the Robert E. Welch Professor of Chemistry, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Christian University and the director of the TCU IdeaFactory. Arnold and Simanek divided 58 essays on the science of whiskey into three parts: “From Sunshine to Sugar” describes how water, light and CO2 combine to form the essential structures of various cereal grains. Part 2, “From Wee Beasties to White Dogs,” covers the science of yeast, mashing, fermentation and distillation. And lastly, “From Barrel to Brain” follows the whiskey through maturation to ingestion.

Shots of Knowledge is an excellent coffee-table book for your home or a distillery tasting room. Each of the 58 essays is one page with an accompanying photograph or illustration. In the margins, Arnold and Simanek also include short snippets of information that build on the central theme of each essay. Both authors have significant scientific training to write authoritatively about the chemical and biological processes that convert grain, yeast and water into whiskey. While the essays are very specific about the science involved, they are short enough to not overwhelm. Shots of Knowledge makes a great coffee-table book since each essay stands alone and the illustrations are engaging. Arnold and Simanek have produced a book that will interest both consumers and distillers who want to better understand the science of whiskey.

First appeared in Distiller. (Summer 2017): 167