Over the past few years, I’ve put together a modest library of drinks-related books, most of them out-of-print and many fairly old and somewhat rare. Apparently, I haven’t been alone; as I check out the usual places on eBay and other online sources for old books, I’ve seen prices rise exponentially, just in the few years I’ve been collecting.
Take David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, for example. Three years ago I was shocked by the $40-50 price tag I was finding for the book online; I eventually found a copy at Powells.com for $10, and snagged it immediately. Today? Check this out: as of this moment, a copy of the 1961 edition in good condition is running at $225, with two days left to bid. That’s downright depressing, for someone hoping to expand his collection.
You can at least find Embury; other vintage cocktail books are so rare that I can’t even recall finding them online, much less at a hyper-inflated price. Such is the case with Harry MacElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails, from 1927. Cocktail geeks with greater experience, timing and/or resources than I have wagged this volume temptiingly online and in press as it has, among other things, the first known printed recipe for the Pegu Club. But despite my sporadic searches, I have yet to see a copy for sale.
This drink apparently comes from that book, and it’s a cocktail I’ve been meaning to try ever since David Wondrich wrote it up in last fall’s edition of Drinks magazine. Wondrich notes that the author included a section of recipes contributed by regulars to Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, where Macelhone presided. Credit for this drink goes to a Philadelphian named Chuck Kerwood, apparently known as the “wild man of aviation.” Yeah, well, if you had a couple of these under your belt, you’d be pretty wild in the cockpit, too.
- 1 ounce VSOP Cognac
- 1 ounce Grand Marnier
- 1 ounce dry vermouth
Stir with ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist a strip of lemon peel over the top.
hmmm…the only vintage cocktail book i own is embury’s, & it was recently given to me. it’s in ragged shape, but serviceable nonetheless.
Burnt Fuselage = magic.
Where is the creme de cacao taste coming from?
Do you have an embury? I have a spare, but I’m looking for something in trade. Do you have any duplicates?
Jimmy — Hmmm, no duplicates about. I do have an Embury, thanks, and I’m hanging on to it a little tighter every time I see the price go up.
Rick — I place your creme de cacao sense on some kind of weird alchemy between the herbal notes in the vermouth and the other ingredients. The drink does have a nice, deep resonance, though, doesn’t it?
It really does – it’s definitely one of my favorite finds of late. Speaking of new drinks, I whipped up my first bottle of falernum and tried out the Corn ‘n Oil. So smooth and silky – very mild too.
I guess I’ll go to the bay with my extra embury. I was hoping to find someone who would want it, and want to trade me something else. Like a Harrington’s or some other book I don’t have. I guess I should have read more carefully where you said you got yours at Powells.
Was disturbed to notice recently that David Wondrich’s “Esquire Drinks,” one of the better cocktail books out there, just went out of print.
I almost feel like stocking up, just in case I want another in the future.
Note: I also checked with Mr. Wondrich and he know of no plans to re-print…
Is there any ‘list’ online that is dedicated to the rare and delicious cocktail book?
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Just wanted to add that chuck Kerwood was a member of the Lafayette Escadrille. Although he crashed behind the German lines in WWI, he was alive and kicking when I met him. He was a friend of my parents and came to visit us in Coral Gables when I was probably still in elementary school.
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