Southern Glazer’s Bridget Albert talks to Derek Brown about his latest book and why understanding the history of cocktails is so important.
Tell our readers about your books Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters How the Cocktail Conquered the World and Mindful Mixology
I’ve written two books about cocktails that are a combination of history, recipes, and technique. The first book I wrote in 2019, Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World, is more history than recipes or technique, though it includes 45 recipes. It’s about mixed drinks and how they’re such an integral part of human history, dating back 9,000 years! It zooms in on the cocktail and how it’s essentially linked to America, covering nine different eras of the cocktails from the Colonial era to the Platinum Age in the 2010s.
My second book, Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails, is, in a way, the tenth chapter, covering no- and low-alcohol cocktails. This book is more recipes (60 in total) and technique than my first book, and shares my own experience with mindful drinking.
Why is the history of the cocktail important to the beverage industry and to world history?
Mostly because they’re the same thing. Cocktail history is world history and, really, tells the story of us. We can see ourselves in the drinks, drink makers, and drinking occasions throughout history.
I believe it’s critical to the beverage industry because, in order to create great spirits, drinks, and experiences for consumers, we have to understand the past. That will not only give us great ideas to follow, but also remind us we stand on the shoulder of giants in the industry. People who created delicious, complex, and enduring spirits and cocktails.
How can you achieve the bold flavor in a cocktail and still keep it low proof?
The short answer is by understanding the sensory characteristics of the cocktail. That boldness is really an intensity of flavor plus piquancy, or bite. Besides alcohol, what other ingredients can replicate those flavors and piquancy? It turns out that it can involve common store-bought ingredients. Everything from apple cider vinegar to ginger can help. Although, there are also a bevy of new no- and low-alcohol spirits, wines, and beers that have been created over the last couple of years.
What is the most interesting cocktail lore that you uncovered in your research?
No- and low-alcohol cocktails aren't a trend! They’ve been an essential part of the bartender’s toolkit. You can find no- and low-alcohol recipes in bartender’s guides from the 19th century and even Temperance (no-alcohol) cocktail books. There were even temperance bars such as Thompson’s Spa in Boston.
Leave us with a toast!
“Good company, good wine, good welcome can make good people”
-Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act 1 Scene 4
About Derek Brown
Derek Brown is the Director of Education for Spiritless and a passionate advocate for no- and low-alcohol cocktails. Formerly of the Columbia Room, named “Best American Cocktail Bar” by the Spirited Awards in 2017, Brown is the author of Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World and Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- And Low-Alcohol Cocktails.
Brown has written for a number of publications on spirits, cocktails, and well-being—from the Washington Post to Vox—and been featured in numerous magazines, websites, and news outlets for his work on spirits and cocktails. Besides that, Brown served as the Chief Spirits Advisor to the National Archives Foundation and is a Distinguished Fellow at Catholic University’s Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship. In 2020, Drinks International named Brown one of the Bar World 100, a list of the top beverage figures affecting positive change in the global bar industry. Follow Derek on Twitter @ideasimprove.
Derek supports charitable work and is passionate about helping others. You can lend your support to one of Derek's causes by following the link below.
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