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Most cocktail books these days are published by big prestigious bars. Names like Death & Co, The Aviary and Smuggler’s Cove need no introduction for most cocktail lovers. It seems to be relatively rare to see books come from true enthusiasts, but Minimalist Tiki is exactly that. Many rum fans like myself have surely heard the name Matt Pietrek (aka Cocktail Wonk). His blog, Cocktail Wonk, is a deep dive into all things spirits, cocktails and drinking. Now, Matt has taken the absolutely huge step of self-publishing his own addition to the tiki vanguard. Minimalist Tiki lives up to the high standards of the Cocktail Wonk blog in every way. The book will exceed even the most skeptical reader’s expectations of what a cocktail book should be.

The first recipe in Minimalist Tiki doesn’t appear until page 144 of its 296 pages. Prior to the first recipe, Matt presents his definition of Minimalist Tiki. The book then details what it takes to set up your own Minimalist Tiki bar. Matt then takes you a step further into where to go once you’ve “mastered” minmalist and want to take the next step. The third section is a treatment of rum as a spirit that only the Cocktail Wonk could put together. It is all highly recommended reading.

Matt constructs a list of what he calls the Minimalist Tiki Classic Thirty. These are thirty drinks that represent the core of what tiki drinks look like. On Pages 14 & 15, he puts together a full matrix of those thirty recipes and all of their ingredients broken down by juices, sweeteners, rums, liqueurs & bitters, base spirits and, yes, ginger beer. This matrix is exceptionally helpful in understanding what ingredients you need for your own tiki setup. The matrix helps you set up a buying list based on your own preferred cocktails. If this wasn’t enough, Matt then teaches you improvisation techniques that you won’t find anywhere else. In Minimalist Tiki, Matt is basically giving you all of the keys you need to unlock your own magical tiki world.

Other than the classic thirty, the recipes in the book are contributed by the biggest names in tiki bars and bartenders. Each includes a brief summary of the person or place that the drink comes from. These lists of bars can (and should) be used to create your own tiki pilgrimage plans.

From a data standpoint, Minimalist Tiki does not look quite as minimalist as you might expect. 52% of the 165 ingredients are used only once. The average number of ingredients per recipe is 7, making each drink a bit more complex than you might find in other cocktail books. These drinks take a bit of work to put together, but you’ll be rewarded with flavor profiles that accentuate the spirit of tiki throughout the book. Pan to start with the classic thirty, and then grow into the rest of the book as you continue your tiki journey.

There are a few interesting participants in the most used ingredient from Minimalist Tiki, most notably Pineapple Juice and Falernum. Most cocktail books will have Lime Juice and Lemon Juice at the top of their ingredients lists but the presence of Pineapple Juice in 21% of the recipes says a lot about the flavor profile of these drinks. Matt’s is the first book I’ve seen with a Falernum recipe in it, and it makes judicious use of the tasty concoction in 17% of its recipes.
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What Matt has accomplished with Minimalist Tiki cannot be overstated. Tiki – often shrouded in mystery and magic – is exposed at a level that anyone can understand. With his explanation of improvisation and drink creation, he also gives you room to grow. Minimalist Tiki is a book you can take off the shelf and use right away. More than that, it is a book you’ll continue to pick up for years to come. I can’t wait to see what else Matt has up his sleeves.
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I wish I had this book when I first started to descend into tiki madness. There is an efficiency mindset that would have helped me focus on just what I needed to start making tiki drinks, versus collecting a hundred bottles, as I randomly explored the Smuggler's Cove and Beachbum Berry books. Speaking of which, the authors pay respect to Berry, and Martin & Rebecca Cate, in addition to Donn Beach and Trader Vic, while applying their own experience and skill set, and that of contributors, to expand what we know and enjoy.

The book starts off by narrowing down thirty tiki classics, so that the reader can focus on starting to enjoy tiki cocktails, while minimizing expenditure. It’s an analytical mindset that I can appreciate, coming from a similar technology background to Matt Pietrek. The rationale behind each ingredient is explained, along with helpful tips on acquisition and preparation. This is the mindset of a Cocktail Wonk, submersed in all things tiki. Purchasing tips to minimize spend and maximize enjoyment. Preparation advice that reminds me of what you would find in the Death & Company and Cocktail Codex books. An exploration of rum history and modern production. Advice on what to buy per rum category, kind of like what you would find in the Smuggler's Cove book, but from another perspective.

I loved reading about the new tiki vanguard: stories behind the bartenders and amateur mixologists, and their recipes, that have helped me and my wife, and I’m sure many of us, escape to that happy place that we enjoy. If you don’t remember some of those happy places, because it was too dark and/or it was a blur, there are pictures and reviews to remind you. I’m looking forward to mixing, shaking, and drinking my way through the many recipes in this book. So many recipes to try!

Reading through this, I get the feeling that the authors have a similar fascination, fervor and frenzy, as my fellow tiki fanatics. I’m very satisfied with my purchase. The quality of the book, the print, and the pictures are all excellent. This book deserves to be in any serious tikiphile’s library. Many thanks to the authors for their work.
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