2016 MANHATTAN EXPERIENCE FINALS JUDGE: David Wondrich

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“A living iPod of drink lore and recipes” (the New York Times), or, if you prefer, a “crazy, bearded Civil War general” (Conan O’Brien), David Wondrich is widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert on the history of mixed drinks. As Esquire magazine’s long-time Drinks Correspondent, Wondrich has ranged far and wide through the world of booze, covering everything from Kentucky bourbon to Chinese cocktails. He is also the cocktail columnist for Imbibe and the Whisky Advocate and a contributing editor at Saveur. Among the other publications he has written for are the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and a host of magazines, from Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Wine & Spirits to Oprah, Real Simple, Newsweek and too many others to count, yea even unto Marie Claire. His drink writing has earned him Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Awards for best drinks writing in both 2009 and 2012, and in 2012 he was also named the International Cognac Writer of the year by France’s Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac. Oh, and Stephen Colbert thinks he’s cute.

He has also written one book on the evolution of American music and four books on cocktails and mixology. The Wall Street Journal hailed the most recent of these, the widely-praised Punch: the Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, as a “noble effort to restore Punch’s good name,” while the New Yorker called it a “lively, fascinating history” by “a tremendously witty writer.” New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix considered it quite brilliant and almost, but not quite, highbrow. In 2011, it won the Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Award for Best Drinks Book. His previous book, Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to Professor Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, is widely considered a modern classic and an essential book for bartenders. It is the first cocktail book ever to win a James Beard award (it also won the Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Award for Best Drinks Book and was a finalist for an IACP award). Rachel Maddow even went so far as to claim that “because of [Imbibe],…we are in the midst of a national renaissance” in the fine old American art of mixing drinks. A fully-revised, corrected and updated edition was released in April, 2015. His first book, Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated and Irreverent Guide to Drinking (Hearst Books, 2002), was acclaimed as “arguably the most enjoyable guide to entertaining with alcohol since Kingsley Amis’s 1972 On Drink . . . brilliantly witty, irreverent and brimming with interesting trivia” (The Toronto Globe and Mail ) and “a must-have for anyone who enjoys a first-class cocktail” (the Dallas Morning News). At present, he is the editor in chief of the forthcoming (eventually) Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails.

Wondrich’s devotion to historical tippling does not shrink from fieldwork: he travels frequently to all corners of the country and the world beyond, teaching bartenders and civilians alike how to drink historically. He was also the motive force behind one of the opening volleys in the modern craft cocktail movement, Slow Food’s 2003 Tribute to Jerry Thomas, in which some of the nation’s most respected mixologists got together to pay tribute to the Professor—an event which the New York Times described as “an antiquarian lark, with overtones of a séance.” More importantly, he is a founding partner of Beverage Alcohol Resource, who since 2006 have been running a yearly 5-day program in spirits and mixology widely acknowledged to be the most intense and best of its kind. Through B.A.R. and its innovative BarSmarts program, created with Pernod-Ricard USA, he has helped to train literally thousands of bartenders in the fine art of mixing drinks. He also performs frequent service as a consultant on drinks and their history; clients have included everyone from the Chilean government to the Smithsonian Institute to the University of California, with a bunch of distilleries, bars and such filling in the cracks.

Occasionally, Wondrich has also been known to develop a cocktail list for a bar or restaurant or help a distiller out with a new spirit, or rather the reconstruction of an old one (most of these have been award-winners).* The drinks he created for New York’s 5 Ninth caused the New York Times to say “Mr. Wondrich has an appreciation of the antique in cocktail-making, and a talent for contemporary context”; in 2005, they won Time Out New York’s coveted award for Best Cocktail List. More recently, he has crafted punches for some of the finest bars and restaurants in America, including among a host of others Clover Club in Brooklyn, the Violet Hour in Chicago, Husk in Charleston, the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon and Prizefighter in Oakland and a complete punch program for the theatrical phenomenon Sleep No More in New York. As the James Beard Award-winning bartender Jim Meehan notes, “Few authors mix as well as they write, Wondrich being a notable exception.”

Dr. Wondrich (he holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from New York University) is a member in satisfactory standing of the Yerba Buena No. 1 Chapter of E Clampus Vitus. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Karen, two cats and what seems like 63,000 books and 247,000 bottles of booze.

 

Select cocktail lists developed:

2003: Chickenbone Café, Brooklyn

2004: 5 Ninth, Manhattan

2005: Annona, Westhampton & Kobe Club, Manhattan

2006: Fatty Crab, Manhattan & The Alembic, San Francisco

2011: Chilean Government/Pisco De Chile (comprehensive cocktail campaign introducing Chilean pisco to American bartenders)

2012: Sleep No More/Gallow Green, Manhattan

 

Select spirits co-developed:

2008: Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum; Batavia Arrack van Oosten

2009: Ransom Old Tom Gin

2011: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

2012: Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao

2013: New York Distilling Chief Gowanus New-Netherland Gin; Ransom The Emerald 1865 Traditional Irish-Style Pot Still Whiskey

2014: Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum

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