Maggie Hoffman is no stranger to the drink world. She founded the drinks section of Serious Eats in 2011. Now, she's moving beyond articles with her first book – The One-Bottle Cocktail, a collection of recipes geared toward the home bartender (but there's nothing simple about these flavors).
We caught up with her to talk about the book, which has us pretty thirsty.
New Times: Tell me a little bit about what your book is, and what it's not?
Maggie Hoffman: What this book is not is a book from a bar. I feel like there was a moment where all the cocktail books you saw were either non-cocktail people making drinks or bar books. I think that there has never been a time where what you're drinking in a bar has been further from what you're making at home.
There has been an explosion of new ingredients, historical ingredients that are getting revived, or cool things that are getting imported. People's bars just have this crazy collection of stuff. I love that stuff – and I love to go to liquor stores and see things I've never seen before. But for most people that's a very expensive proposition.
If you look at a bar book and it asks you to buy four different bottles and you're only using a quarter-ounce of each one, that bar book isn't really going to serve you well as a person wanting to make a drink at home. So instead, this book is a collection of recipes from bartenders where I basically had them tie their hands behind their backs. They don't have access to their crazy bar collection — instead I sent them to the grocery store, which is what normal people do. Normal people go to the grocery store to buy their dinner ingredients and could easily pick up some marmalade, or maybe a kind of honey they haven't had before, or a different kind of tea or tonic water — any number of things.
My test was that if something was in Whole Foods or gourmet stores like that it was fair game. I wanted to make a collection of truly modern, contemporary-tasting drinks, which are complex and ... are not sweet; they often have a savory character, or they have a tannic character — you know the way that wine or tea sort of dries out your tongue — that can be a really important facet of a cocktail — the way things are balanced with bitterness and sweetness.
So instead of just making a spiked lemonade, these drinks are truly modern drinks but they are made without that collection of crazy bitters and liqueurs and six different kinds of vermouth and all of those things that bartenders like to play with.
What kind of prompts did you give these bartenders, and how did you choose what to include?
At first I really let them go wild. I talked to about a thousand bartenders — they were really generous and some of them just got really excited and really creative. They would text me from the grocery store and say ‘What do you think about aloe vera juice?’ and I was like "Well if it's at your grocery store, that's cool."
As I sort of checked the boxes — I tried to include a lot of summer produce and fall produce and so once I had a great blackberry drink I didn't really need like five more — once I had a drink with green grapes I didn't need another one. Then I was trying to make sure there were enough drinks for each bottle.
If you have a bottle of mezcal and you get this book, you probably already know that mezcal is great with grapefruit juice. You don't really need to do much to make a great mezcal drink, but if you open this you will see that there's a handful of recipes using it.
There's a recipe that I'm obsessed with where you basically make tea. You make a hibiscus tea and you can buy Traditional Medicinals brand — it’s like straight hibiscus and then there's also Tazo passion which I think also has some other stuff in it, but it works too, and you basically make tea and you add rosemary and so what you're kind of doing is making like a really cool, tart vermouth basically. It’s not vermouth but it's an herbal sort of juicy, tart syrup that you're mixing with lemon juice and mezcal.
Then maybe you make the one with ginger, which I love, and maybe you make the one with blood orange soda and maybe you make the one with pomegranate juice and you can buy carrot juice now so there's one that uses carrot juice and make the one with celery – but then if you still have more mezcal in your bottle you can get to the end and find more drinks to make with that bottle and that was sort of important to me and that sort of happened by accident.
The bartenders would say, "I made this drink with gin but actually another herbal spirit works as well. So you might find that tequila is also delicious." So I went through and tested them all again. So many of these drinks were also flexible and could use a different spirit swapped in if you want to use mezcal or if you want to use gin or whatever it is. Any of the ones that are recommended, I have made. I've also made others that didn't work, so it's good to follow the recommendations.
Some of these drinks will take some planning. You have to go to the grocery store. You might have Earl Grey tea at your house or you might have a bunch of grapefruits, but you might not. Basically, the solution here is that things you buy at the grocery store are going to be so much more affordable. It's so much more affordable to buy chamomile tea bags then to buy some kind of aperitif wine.
What got you started on the one-bottle concept?
So in the grander scheme, it was looking at all of these books that get sent to me because I was the editor of the drink site for so many years. I would look at all of these books and be like, "These are so fun." I have a lot of booze — most people don't have as much booze as I have. I live in an apartment, there is a wall dedicated to booze, and in fact I also have two closets that are full of booze, so if I can't make something — when I have dedicated my child's closet to a collection of booze — that really means that's an effort for most people.
So I've been thinking a lot about budget and I think people are willing to do a little bit of DIY in order to have a really fun drink. People are comfortable in the kitchen. Everybody's cooking and Instagraming what they're cooking. People are willing to make a little bit of effort to have a drink that's really a showstopper. I kind of believe that people are up for that. Anyone can spike their lemonade; you don't need a book for that.
What are you most excited about as you send this book into the world?
I hope people make the drinks and write to me — find me on Instagram, and tell me which drink you made. Also I think this is a book — obviously it came out in the spring — but it really does have something for every season and so I hope that you sort of bookmark, like ‘Okay, maybe we're going to make the El Gallito now. You can't make the concord grape drink yet — save that one for the fall when there are concord grapes, and make a watermelon drink when it's summer. So hopefully, people will be able to sort of move their way through the book, through the seasons.
Created by Matthew McKinley Campbell for The One-Bottle Cocktail.
25 fresh cilantro stems with leaves
2 green onions, top third of greens removed
8 cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
8 ounces lime juice
5 ounces water
4 ounces undiluted agave nectar
1 ounce adobo sauce from canned chipotles
About 24 ounces vodka
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12 cocktail picks, each with 1 cherry tomato half
Slice cilantro and green onions into 3-inch segments, then add to a blender along with tomatoes, pineapple, lime juice, water, agave nectar, adobo sauce, and salt. Process until smooth. Strain through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Set aside solids to serve as a salsa, refrigerating if not serving ASAP.
Measure the liquid mix (it should yield about 24 ounces) and pour into a 2-quart pitcher or resealable container along with an equal amount of vodka. If not serving right away, refrigerate for up to 3 hours.
When ready to serve, stir mixture well, then add ice to pitcher and give it another gentle stir. Pour into ice-filled rocks glasses and garnish each one with a speared cherry tomato half.