"What kind of cocktails would chefs create?" That is the question restaurateur Nick Kokonas asks in what might be the most revolutionary book of the modern craft cocktail renaissance.
Filled to the brim with the most original and complicated drinks imaginable, The Aviary Cocktail Book encapsulates a level of craftsmanship that's both intimidating and aspirational. Those up to the challenge can now craft cocktails that no sane person might otherwise imagine, including from-scratch ingredients like serrano ice, a parsley tincture and ginger syrup for drinks like Jesus Can't Hit a Curveball. For the less ambitious, this 446-page oeuvre can also serve as an art book that can anchor the finest coffee tables.
The origin of The Aviary Cocktail Book starts with the Chicago bar from which it derives its name. Kokonas and chef Grant Achatz opened the Aviary in 2011 with a vision of taking the culinary elevations they developed at Alinea, Roister and Next and applying them to cocktails. For example, if a certain flavor combo worked at one of the restaurants, the Aviary would experiment with the same ingredients in the form of a cocktail. The creative momentum took hold from there and grew at an exponential rate.
The intention to make a book existed from the beginning—a creative endeavor this bold needs to be documented—and Kokonas and Achatz found the perfect partners in California artists Allen and Sarah Hemberger, who previously published their own book about making all the dishes in the Alinea cookbook. The result is an oversized collection of next-level mixology presented in all its visual glory through stunning full-page photography. The Aviary Cocktail Book has the heft and design of a Taschen title, yet the German publisher has yet to produce cocktail porn that competes with this.
So just how challenging are these cocktail recipes? A carbonation device, immersion blender, juicer and 16mm hemispherical mold are all necessary just to make a gin and tonic. And how original are the drink concepts? The recipe for a Green Thumb includes a barbecue aroma, which requires setting hot dogs, lump charcoal and a 190-proof grain spirit on fire in a pan. The aroma then goes through a freezer, coffee filter and atomizer, and it's just one of three ingredients that must be made from scratch.
What other adventures does The Aviary offer?
You can go full bouge with the bourbon-based No Chocolate Here made with a French black truffle stock, while travel junkies can pass through all four seasons with the kaiseki-themed A Year in Kyoto. Each season has its own recipe, and the current season, Kyoto Winter, blends sweet and spicy with a white chocolate-wasabi base. Need a special cocktail for 420? How Does Snoop Dogg Use Lemongrass (surprisingly not made with gin and/or juice) shows how to make lemongrass look like a joint. The book also explores how ice can play a role in transforming flavor and texture, a concept the Aviary continues to develop with a dedicated ice chef who oversees up to 35 different types of ice (as seen in the image on the right) each night.
In the foreword, chef Achatz asks, "What is a cocktail? Does it have to be liquid?" That more or less sets the tone for the type of thinking that characterizes the Aviary experience. There's no shame in stocking the title as an art book, but the more daring among us have the opportunity to craft cocktails whose only limits are the imagination. If Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tender's Guide was the cocktail equivalent of Introducing… The Beatles, The Aviary is definitely Revolver.
The Aviary Cocktail Book is available here for $85 (standard edition) and $135 (reserve edition with a custom-designed clamshell case).