Since beginning this quest to visit the world’s best cocktail bars in late 2014, there’s one bar that stands above all else.
It’s come up dozens of times, and I’m not sure there’s a bartender or cocktail bar owner that doesn’t owe their success in one way or another to this bar.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been to it.
In fact, it no longer exists.
That bar is Milk & Honey in New York City.
Widely regarded as one of the most influential bars of all time, the Sasha’s proteges at Milk & Honey, like Sam Ross, gave us modern classics like the Paper Plane and the Penicillin.
And up until very recently, I had no idea that the late founder of Milk & Honey, Sasha Petraske, had a cocktail book.
In a Facebook group I was apart of I mentioned by recent post about my favorite
“What do you think of Sasha’s book Regrding Cocktails?”
My response was:
“I think it’s shocking I didn’t realize he had a book! But it’s now been ordered and on the way!”
I received that book last week, and have now had the chance to read it and make some of the cocktails found inside.
But the question is, is Regarding Cocktails worth adding to your collection? Do the recipes concocted still live up to the reputation that their so well known for?
Let’s find out.
Note: Check out our other best cocktail book recommendations.
regarding cocktails: Initial Impressions
In opening up the book one of the first things you noticed is a unique leaflet inside that says “legend”.
All of the drink recipes include diagram of the cocktail with ingredients marked by different patterns. While it’s not exactly useful in anyway, the design aesthetic is beautiful, and the inclusion of the separate Legend is a very nice touch.
The book is very well made and a nice size.
As with most of my
Sasha Petraske is a legend in the business, and a man known for is exacting standards and quality.
The book is less a book written by him, and more written by those who knew him. Each recipe has a few paragraphs about the drink from the bartender who created it – most of which have an interesting story about how they presented it to Sasha.
Throughout the book you’ll find more than just how to make drinks, but specifics on everything from tools needed for a home bar, to how to host a proper cocktail party, to why you should shake with large ice.
It’s certainly not the all-inclusive brick of a book that Meehan’s Bar Manual is, but it’s just enough to be an easy read and prove valuable to the amateur bartender.
The book felt very much like his bars, in that it’s simple but incredibly well executed.
While I never was able to make it to Milk & Honey, I have been to it’s current incarnation, Attaboy, which is in the same space
Unfortunately my most recent visit at the end of last year, fell victim to the great memory card debacle of 2019 – and so nearly all of my photos were lost (save for about five images from Cafe Dante).
But needless to say, everything there is very well done, and exactly how it should be.
You won’t find the elaborate cocktails of a place like Nottingham Forest, or even in many cases Dead Rabbit. But what you will find are relatively simple cocktails crafted to the absolute highest levels of precision – which is what Sasha is known for.
And the cocktails you’ll find in this book reflect that.
regarding cocktails: The Drinks
After my first casual perusal of Regarding Cocktails, there were a couple things that jumped out.
One being the simplicity of many of the drinks. It’s clear when most of these were created it was at a time before cocktails got more than just slightly pretentious.
In the very beginning of the book he lists out some of the homemade syrups or bitters that are used, and even those are about as straightforward as it gets.
As I was looking through the book trying to decide on my first cocktail to make, I noticed that a lot of them used honey syrup as an ingredient.
I’ve come across this numerous times in other books, and never took the time to actually make it.
Fortunately, my father-in-law has a beekeeping hobby, and we have close to a half gallon of honey we’ve stored up through the years.
So for my first drink, I decided to also try out their recipe for honey syrup and see how it goes.
One cup honey, 1/3 cup hot water. Stir to combine.
I didn’t think it was possible to have a syrup easier to make than simple syrup, but this takes the cake. It literally took five minutes, and probably opened up the ability to make close to a dozen cocktails in the book (not to mention classics, like a Bees Knees).
Drink #1: The Saladito Cocktail
For my first cocktail from the book I stumbled onto a mezcal drink called the Saladito.
While the recipe in the book calls for 2oz of Espadin mezcal, I recently was gifted a bottle of fantastic Casamigos mezcal, so decided to use that.
Making the drink was as simple as it gets.
Mezcal, lime juice, honey syrup, a pinch of cayenne, and a pinch of sea salt to garnish.
Now, when I first was looking at this drink, all I could think was “it seems too simple.”
And that’s how most of the drinks in this book are. Most don’t have more than 4 ingredients, and they’re no more difficult to make than a classic daiquiri.
But man, this drink was way more interesting and complex than expected.
This was only the second time I’ve used a single large cube to shake (the first being in the Union Club), but it adds a texture to the drink that you don’t get otherwise.
You even think, “how much of an impact can a pinch of spice or salt add to the drink?”
Turns out a lot. There was just enough spice to compliment the mezcal, and the salt did the same and had a little of that “tequila shot” vibe – yet more delicious, and in cocktail form.
Drink #2: Strawberry Fix
For as much as I like strawberries, I honestly haven’t had that many drinks that use fresh strawberries – so this one was especially intriguing.
The basics of it, like many others in this book are very simple. It’s essentially a whiskey sour with strawberry. In fact, that’s exactly what it is.
But it’s also a completely different drink.
You muddle strawberries at the bottom of a double rocks glass, add crushed ice and pour your whiskey sour over it. Literally, 2oz bourbon, 3/4oz lemon, 3/4 simple – the exact same recipe as I have in our whiskey sour post.
But it tastes like a completely different drink.
Crushed ice and a better straw would have done wonders for my iteration of it, but it was still very good – and you could make out every ingredient.
Like every drink in this book – every drink has it’s place.
Drink #3: Bicycle Thief
This is the ultimate summer cocktail. It’s light, bitter, and drinking it could literally transport you to a street side cafe in Italy.
It’s familiar, yet different.
Obviously this has become a theme. But one of the things I love about this is the fact that with a few basic ingredients you can make a lot of different drinks from this book.
And even if you notice similarities in some, they often taste wildly different.
This one was boozier than an Americano, but not as hit you in the face as a negroni. That said, the campari is still very prevalent, so if you’re a Campari newbie, I’d probably start with the Union Club first.
So, should you buy
Personally, the books I’m most interested in are the books from the bartenders of the top bars in the world.
So for me? Given the legendary status of Milk & Honey (and Attaboy for that matter), this makes this a must buy.
But what if you don’t care about that stuff? What if you just want a great cocktail book with great recipes?
Then there is even more reason to buy it.
This shouldn’t be your first cocktail book. Everyone should have one that covers the classics, and Cocktail Codex is my favorite for that.
But most of the cocktails from these bars I like can get complex, and require ingredients that you’re unlikely to have.
That’s not the case with Regarding Cocktails.
The drinks are easy to make, yet still delicious, complex, and unique.
It strikes the perfect balance of simplicity and complexity that make it attainable for the most casual of home bartenders, yet wildly interesting for the true aficionado.
If there’s any knock I’d have on the book, it would probably be that the drinks aren’t varied enough. On the page about the Saladito I mentioned above, it even says it’s basically a mezcal version of a different cocktail in the book, “The Business” (I made both, personally I thought the mezcal version was much more interesting).
And many of the drinks do on the surface seem to be similar style with similar ingredients.
But that’s also part of its charm, because it means once you have some of the basic ingredients, you can make a lot of drinks from the book, that will have more differences between them than you might expect.
I for one, am incredibly glad I picked this up, and this will be one of my go to books for when I need, delicious, relatively simple drinks next time I have friends over.
Note: Sasha had only begun outlining this book before he passed away far too early. His wife was the one who made the decision to finish it out. Thrillist did a great interview with her about that process that is worth checking out.