Michelin star chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, the co-creators and masterminds behind the esteemed restaurant Alinea in Chicago, have teamed up with California artist duo Allen and Sarah Hemberger to publish an extraordinary book called The Aviary Cocktail Book.

Michelin star chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, the co-creators and masterminds behind the esteemed restaurant Alinea in Chicago, have teamed up with California artist duo Allen and Sarah Hemberger to publish an extraordinary book called The Aviary Cocktail Book.

In 2011, Achatz and Kokonas opened an innovative, unconventional cocktail bar called The Aviary on Fulton Market in Chicago. Elevating the approach to complex, cocktail concoctions, they set the bar way higher for everyone else. Every cocktail on the menu is made with precision and a level of detail unlike anything seen before: visually dramatic and breathtaking, serving a little piece of theatre performed tableside. From puffs of smoke to pillows of scent captured and released from ziplock bags, to hand-sculpted, flavored ice cubes, each cocktail is truly a work of art. The duo have since opened The Aviary NYC on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where the signature Wake and Bake cocktail comes wrapped up in a bag that when sliced open releases the aroma of an everything bagel.

The Aviary Cocktail Book, pages containing cocktail science

The Aviary Cocktail Book

Photo by The Alinea Group

The classic cookbooks of Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse, with their beautiful, full-page photos, profoundly influenced Achatz in his formative years as a chef. Having never seen a cocktail book that could compared to the quality and stature of these classics, Achatz wanted to publish a cocktail book that did the industry justice and represented his cocktail creations in the same way. Like everything else Achatz and Kokonas have created, when it came to crafting a cocktail book, they wanted to do things differently and disrupt the status quo of traditional publishing. They choose instead to do everything themselves, and assembled an unusual production team by way of the Hembergers.

Allen Hemberger, a visual effects artist who has worked on movies like Finding Dory, Avatar and Brave, and his wife, Sarah (also a visual artist), had cooked their way through the Alinea cookbook, and journaled the process, which culminated in their own book called, The Alinea Project. They then sent a copy of their book to Achatz and Kokanas as their way of saying thanks. As Achatz and Kokonas flipped through the book, they realized the Hembergers should be their co-creators for their next project: The Aviary Cocktail Book.

“I wouldn’t say Sarah and I came to this project with a strong creative vision originally,” said Allen. “In fact, during our first meeting with Nick and chef Achatz, we asked them, ‘What do you guys want this book to be?’ They both shrugged and said ‘We don’t know; what do you want it to be?’ It was not a question we were prepared to answer; we simply wanted to work with the incredibly talented staff to create something beautiful.”

In an effort to raise funds for the project, The Alinea Group launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $400,000. Refusing to compromise their vision for the book, the entire project was handled inhouse, from writing and photography to marketing and distribution. “Luckily for Sarah and me, we all found each other and collectively felt this was something we wanted to do together,” said Hemberger. “While I had a fair bit of experience with cooking before, neither Sarah nor myself knew anything about the cocktail world. I could manage a pretty mediocre Old Fashioned, but that’s about it!”

The Aviary Cocktail Book, book on white background

The Aviary Cocktail Book

Photo by The Alinea Group

While most cocktail books are organized by base spirit or ingredient, this approach didn’t make a lot of sense for The Aviary Cocktail Book. The drinks are mostly developed from a culinary perspective, and as such don’t cleanly fit into typical categories. The problem of how to organize the book was one that stumped the team for months, until Kokonas suggested having multiple tables of contents and grouping the drinks around a central mood or concept, rather than by ingredient.

While most cocktail books seem to fall into the “Gentleman’s Guide” bar manual format–with few images and small pages–The Aviary Cocktail Book stayed true to its original inspiration: A big, heavy book filled with beautiful images. “Physical stature aside, the thing I’m most excited about is the balance we struck by slamming together such wildly different perspective,” said Hemberger. “Because of our background exploring the cuisine of Alinea, we have what I think is a unique perspective on how it feels to try to bring high-end cookery to the home kitchen. We viewed it as our job to try to accurately distill the ideas we see in The Aviary kitchen into this book in an understandable and approachable way.”