Maggie Hoffman believes that there is a growing gap between the elaborate cocktails served in craft cocktail destinations and the drinks that you can make in your own home. The Serious Eats editorial alum is attempted to bridge that divide in her debut book The One Bottle Cocktails. Hoffman sat down with NP to discuss her new writing, fresh ingredients in drinks, and the future of cocktails.
As the title suggest, The One Bottle Cocktails is a compilation of recipes that can be made with one bottle of liquor along with base ingredients available in a supermarket. Unlike recent big releases that chronicle the menus of nightlife hotspots, the The One Bottle Cocktails puts a magnifying glass on the home bar—with some expert advice.
“Now, every restaurant has to have great cocktails. But when you get home, you can’t make the drink because you don’t have the ingredients,” explained the author. “Bartenders are into experimenting with new and obscure ingredients—which I love, but are you really going to buy a $50 bottle to put make one drink that require a quarter ounce?”
Hoffman’s first experimentation with this process of simplification came during her days at Serious Eats along with sous-vide star Kenji Alt-Lopez. “He loves cocktails like a Negroni and Sazerac and he has very strict opinions. But, he really got me thinking about what are people willing to do,” she recalled. “The first way that this came up was when we were looking for a way to recycle old recipes. We looked at 15 drinks to make with one bottle and pantry ingredients.”
Years later, the goal of mixing drinks that utilize easily accessible ingredients inadvertently sparked a new concept. “It’s not a throwback,” said Hoffman. “It turned out to be a book of really fresh cocktails because it’s always going taste better starting fresh.”
The writer quickly realized that if a grocery-run is involved anyway, there is no need to limit your options to standbys. For example, instead of a tired choice like muddled mint, the book offers new takes like a radicchio syrup. “The idea is that many ingredients including savory ingredients can be fresh—especially for people at home where quantity does not come into play. They come out of the kitchen,” Hoffman elaborated. “There’s a drink with tofu, greek yogurt. Greek Yogurt is rich and tart—it adds acidity without too much richness. Likewise, marmalade is a wonderful bitter ingredient.”
To this end, the writer polled about 1000 bartenders. She estimated that about 200 of them replied with complete recipes. Initially she earmarked almost every strong submission for inclusion in the work, but as the flow of recipes continued unabated, she began looking for drinks that used certain, specific ingredients.
Next, the pool was slimmed down. Hoffman took care to maintain a diverse selection of recipes. “I wanted to introduce new names and some new drinks,” she declared.
So, yes, there are cocktails from bold-faced names like Sother Teague in NYC and Caitlan Laman in Chicago. However, the roster also features some excellent recipes from bartenders in places like Minneapolis, Birmingham, St. Augustine, and Winnipeg. “People are excited to try great drinks in every city,” mused Hoffman.
The author particularly loved the agave based cocktails. Citing the spirits’ complexity, smokey notes, and delicious flavor, she theorized, “It’s cheating. They’re all so easy.” NP’s test bar agreed. We loved Pilar Vree’s “La Verduderia,” a mix of tequila and some basic ingredients found at any latino market. Alan Ruesga-Pelayo’s “Sassy Flower” is simply a mix of mezcal, lemon juice, and hibiscus-rosemary syrup—and, it’s delicious.
Several of the recipes are now on special at the contributors’ bars. However, Hoffman does not believe that the move towards simplicity is the future of the industry. “There will always be a handful of bars that serve great classic cocktails done impeccably. Other than those bars, you will see drinks further and further from what you can make at home. Economy of scale. They can batch them,” she posited. “They have a 100 people order that. That doesn’t work at home… There’s a limit to what you are capable of doing and interested in doing.”
The writer’s parting advice is to make care when selecting that one bottle. “The spirits are really important. Don’t buy shitty spirits,” she stressed. “You’re not going to make good drinks if you buy shitty spirits.”
The One Bottle Cocktail is now on sale in bookstores and online. The Ten Speed Press release touts an MSRP of $22. Get it here.