Barroom Bookshelf #2 – Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Tastybite Recipes

Barroom Bookshelf #2:
Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Tastybite Recipes

The front cover of Burke's Complete Cocktail & Tastybite Recipes

I do not recall exactly when or where I got my copy of Burke’s Complete Cocktail & Tastybite Recipes, but I am sure that the term “tastybite” was a major factor in acquiring it.

Written in 1936 by Herman “Barney” Burke, this 8” book endeavours to detail the etiquette of mixing, serving and drinking beverages, with a  selection of cocktail foodbits recipes thrown in.

The author believes food and drink to be brothers and proclaims that, in consideration of their health, the wise drinker (and I’m not sure how many of those I have met) will accompany their cocktails with tastybites before, during & after the drink.

So it is clear that Mr. Burke certainly has his opinions and these are not restricted to the present; he has his views of the future too. Here are two of his predictions:

1) (The) cocktail period will probably pass to make way for (people) learning and enjoying drinks as connoisseurs.

2) US wine will (one day) be the best in the world.

Interestingly, you could definitely argue that the first one has come to pass; as for the second, well, I’ve had some nice Californian wines, but I’m far off making a definitive decision.

Burke’s is famous for containing one of the first written recipe of the Brandy Alexander but in addition to this the book contains recipes that I have not been able to find elsewhere (at least not without reference to this volume) so, in the name of experimentation, I tried a couple out:

Thunderbolt & Harvard Brandy Cocktail recipes – CLICK TO ENLARGE

1) Thunderbolt
Boom! This is a Thunderbolt. This golden, aptly named drink packs a punch, but its shaking means it’s got a little less edge than you might expect. I mixed this with Seagram’s Gin, Seagram’s Whisky and Brandy. It has a strong flavour but, like The Vesper, you’d only need one before dinner.

The Thunderbolt Cocktail

2) Harvard Brandy Cocktail
This has a sophisticated feel with a full flavour: a balance of herbs and spices. As this is stirred, it makes the drink that bit smoother and I think it makes a charming alternative to a Manhattan. The brandy and vermouth mix well, with the sugar syrup off-setting any bitterness, and the Angostura Bitters binds the drink together in its usual fashion.

The Harvard Brandy Cocktail

In Conclusion
Burke’s provides an extensive selection of cocktails and, more unusually, tastybite recipes. I haven’t focused on the latter so much, but the five types of caviar canapes are not to be missed. I also enjoyed Barney Burke’s insights and soothsaying of the bar world past, present and future, and the pages at the end for “Your own recipes” is a really nice touch.
Is the book essential for a fledgling vintage barroom bookshelf? No, but I am very glad it’s on mine.

A reprint of Burke’s Complete Cocktail & Tastybite Recipes is available from Createspace and Amazon and is currently priced, rather reasonably, under £10.

OR here:

Score: 3 stars

Barroom Bookshelf#1: Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts

Barroom Bookshelf #1:
Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts

Esquire's Handbook for Hosts

The very first “vintage” cocktail book, and the volume responsible for sparking my interest in old cocktails, bar book and barware, was a 1954 edition of Esquire’s “Handbook for Hosts”. Costing less than £3, this is a book that I have returned to again and again; it has even done a bit of travel with me.

The book covers all manner of subjects that were viewed as essential knowledge for the sophisticated man of the 1950’s: there are a few pages on a host’s dress and behaviour, a very comprehensive section on culinary delights, a lovely section on drinks and a selection of little tidbits at the end.

"What the well-dressed bar will wear"

The fascinating drinks chapter begins with essential bar equipment and then moves on to building up your cocktail “cellar”. This means that you don’t have to splash out on a myriad of bottles when you start and so hopefully won’t be left with a bottle of Parfait Amour that has been hardly touched. It was a sign of the times that Cellar #1 consists solely of dry gin and French (dry) vermouth.

The selection of cocktails is wide, but shies away from being excessive. What is particularly neat is that the more popular cocktails – Martini, Manhattan, Daquiri and Julep – are each given extra attention with an overview of their origins and variations.

The tips on how to be an excellent host are so numerous and amusing, as well as being sound advice, that it is hard to do them justice in this simple review, but some of my favourites are the – rather tongue-in-cheek – ways of getting rid of guests who have outstayed their welcome. For example:

Husband: “Let’s be getting on home so these people can get some sleep.”
Wife: “Don’t be silly darling, we are at home.”

The last quarter of the book covers conversation, suitable games and after-dinner entertainments, and 365 excuses for a party. Also included is a quiz on “How attractive are you to women?” and, oddly, “How attractive are you to men?”, the latter of which seems to be the only two pages in the whole book aimed at women. It still leaves me perplexed, but is, nonetheless, included in both the vintage and contemporary editions.


The book is available as a contemporary reprint, but these versions, whilst good, have had some of the charm and character of the earlier edition edited out. Many also lack an index, which is a notable omission. As earlier versions of this work are available on places such as Amazon Marketplace for a reasonable price, I suggest plucking for one of those.

All in all, I have really enjoyed revisiting the book to write this review and I had truly forgotten how good it was.

"How to use this book"

Esquire’s Handbook For Hosts (1954)
Frederick Muller Ltd.
288 pages.

Score: 4 Stars – Highly Recommended