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Surely, many a patron—sitting in Canon, Jamie Boudreau's tiny Capitol Hill Wonkaland of molecular mixology and esoteric spirits, and flipping through the 182 page Captain's List of spirits and eyeing that 1901 Old Overholt (only, you know, $1125 a pour)—has entertained the thought: I should open a bar. Well, the first 30 or so pages of Boudreau’s The Canon Cocktail Book (cowritten with James O. Fraioli and out November 1) seem written to break all but the most dedicated of such hope. Here Boudreau details the opening narrative of his bar and then offers tips to those interested in starting their own.

Yes, his epigraph admits to the romance of the endeavor: “This is not a cocktail book. This is a love story.” But probably his 9am to 3:30am, seven-day-a-week schedule will have plenty of hopefuls throwing in their bar towel. If not, he gives warnings aplenty: “The reality of bar ownership is that you are now a glorified busser, with minors in plumbing, carpentry, painting, and electrical work.”

But this startup advice and the subsequent mixology tips, like how to stir and how to strain, read more as rhetorical sleight of hand than actual an actual how-to for serious careerists (no books-balancing drudgery). Instead this stretch—and much of The Canon Cocktail Book—seems aimed at that dreaming amateur, the armchair mixologist.

That restraint of specificity carries over to the recipes, which comprise most of the book. Anyone hoping to make the Canon Cocktail at home gets the barebones: rye, sweet vermouth, Ramazzotti Amaro, angostura bitters, and instructions for making the triple sec foam (an involved affair with bloomed gelatin and an N2O charged canister). It’s odd though—for a bar so revered for its cocktail nerdiness and curatorial glee (Western Hemisphere’s largest spirit collection, they'll proudly note), and for a bartender whose backcover biographical blurb states that he’s “best known for his mastery of molecular mixology and for his palate”—to not say what rye, what vermouth, what bitters he prefers.

Boudreau writes that readers should show “irreverence” with his recipes—tweaking as they deem fit. Occasionally he suggests a liquor that fits best—like Beefeater 24 in the Gunpowder and Smoke or an unsmoky mezcal in the Mezcal Buzz—but most base spirits are broadly categorized: gin, bourbon, cognac. Ditto the vermouths and bitters.  

This populist sensibility—sure, many home bars have only one rye—strikes a dissonant note with what you expect from Canon. You enter wanting the unrestrained, the overly specific, the esoteric, the straight-up weird. And these recipes are here: the Zombie for Two has rum infused with Earl Grey tea–smoked calf’s brains. But they’re tempered by approachability. 

Many of the recipes here are replicable with a small bar and moderate effort. Take the Aude Man Thyme: chardonnay, gin, thyme sprigs, peach puree. Pick a drier chardonnay; mix; strain well. That’s it. No blowtorches, no ultrasonic homogenizer, no IV-bag for portioning. Just a smart twining of flavors.

Peeking behind the curtain of a wizard at work is fun, and probably from just this book-length glimpse, you’ll learn plenty. Understand though that The Canon Cocktail Book offers just that—a peek, not the grand tour.

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