Culture

"Regarding Cocktails" Pays Loving Tribute to Visionary Barman Sasha Petraske

The cover of the book,"Regarding Cocktails."
"Regarding Cocktails" encapsulates the legacy of Sasha Petraske, whose vision was a major force in the cocktail revolution. Photo by Zandy Mangold.

One of this year’s most eagerly awaited books in the drinks world, “Regarding Cocktails” (Sasha Petraske with Georgette Moger-Petraske/Phaidon, $29.95), officially debuts today. It is the only book on bartending visionary Sasha Petraske, which his wife, spirits writer Georgette Moger-Petraske, completed as a tribute to his timeless legacy of single-handedly changing cocktail culture. “Regarding Cocktails” contains 85 of Petraske’s signature drinks from Milk & Honey and his other game-changing bars, along with essays that capture his inimitable wit, wisdom and charm.

“It is equal parts liquid memoir, cocktail cookbook and reference guide for a successful home bar,” explains Moger-Petraske. “I would hope that readers would take away from the book the knowledge of how to create beautifully executed cocktails in their home, while learning stories of Sasha’s enduring legacy from his friends and bar family.”

While the void created by his untimely passing last year will never be filled, this book, a true labor of love, helps immortalize his voice and ensures that his gentle but uncompromising influence will endure for generations to come. The fact that tipplers can get a properly mixed cocktail in many bars and restaurants around the world is thanks, in part, to Petraske, who played a key role in restoring the cocktail as an elegant, yet unpretentious art form and the bar as a place of civilized social communion.

Through his award-winning bars and consulting projects, he galvanized a generation of bartenders and bar patrons alike as to what constitutes a precisely made, well-balanced drink, restored a sense of honor and purpose to the bartending profession and, through his oft-quoted house rules, taught us all the value of barroom decorum.

This past summer, Tales of the Cocktail saluted Petraske’s accomplishments with a Lifetime Achievement Award, which Moger-Petraske accepted on his behalf. Her gracious words at the Spirited Awards ceremony touched everyone in the grand ballroom, which was filled with love and respect for Petraske. Notably reticent, perhaps even shy, Petraske eschewed the spotlight and generally shunned media interviews. As such, it is a happy surprise that he agreed to write a book.

A couple standing in front of a river and a bridge. Sasha Petraske was a notoriously private man, known and loved best by his wife Georgette Moger-Petraske who has completed his book since his passing in 2015. Photo courtesy of Georgette Moger-Petraske.

“Sasha may have been a very private person, but he was always eager to share with those curious, the proper way to create, serve and present quality drinks,” says Moger-Petraske. “The presentation is a very important part of it — it’s a matter of delivering an exceptional product with grace — without excess explanation of what went into making it.”

His book was to be a guide to preparing Milk & Honey-grade drinks at home, something in the league of “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” While the book was far from complete, Moger-Petraske, an accomplished writer, took up the cause to bring his essays, insights and guidelines to the world. Faced with a tight deadline, she put her journalism career, as well as her novel, on hold.

The result perfectly captures Petraske’s wisdom in his own words, with quotes like, “If you’re serious about making cocktails at home, the first thing you have to do is take all the food out of your freezer and throw it away. It’ll add unwanted flavor to the ice, and you weren’t going to eat it anyway.”

Furthermore, she enlisted the support of the extended Milk & Honey family, about 20 bartenders whom Petraske had personally mentored. They shared their reminiscences of working with Petraske, how he inspired them, and the recipes and stories behind the drinks that reminded them most of him. These notables include Sam Ross, Joseph Schwartz, Eric Alperin, Toby Maloney, Richard Boccato, Theo Lieberman, Lucinda Sterling, Karin Stanley, Michael Madrusan, Chad Solomon, Christy Pope and others.

With forewards by Dale DeGroff and Robert Simonson, “Regarding Cocktails” also includes meticulous home bar set-up introductions, including glassware, equipment, garnishes and syrups. It demystifies the vast cocktail universe by being organized by five drink archetypes — The Old Fashioned, The Martini and the Manhattan, The Sour, The Highball and the Fix — variations of which underlie practically all drinks. There is an additional chapter on Punches, Flips, and Dessert and Temperance Cocktails.

Recipes span beloved classics and modern variations, including The Business, Gin & It, The Penicillin, The Gold Rush and Gordon’s Cup. “Regarding Cocktails” embraces Petraske’s ascetic aesthetic; in place of highly-produced photographs, there are simple but clever illustrations mapping out each drink’s components, with an annotated bookmark providing a handy legend. Seasoned bartenders, armchair mixologists and the intellectually curious will all find something to learn within this book’s covers.

“Regarding Cocktails” launched at a preview event at Ken Friedman and Chef April Bloomfield’s John Dory Oyster Bar in New York City, where Petraske consulted on the bar program and trained the bar staff. Each attendee, including journalists and bartenders, received a signed copy sporting a special seal from an embosser that Petraske had bestowed to Moger-Petraske to celebrate their engagement, a very personal touch.

Given the excellence of the Daiquiris, Fallbacks, KT Collinses and other tipples adroitly served, Petraske’s legacy was in full evidence. He would no doubt have been very proud of the event and this important book that Moger-Petraske is generously sharing with the world.

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