As an ongoing initiative, we’ve launched a new series called Raise Your Spirits—geared toward bringing bartenders useful and helpful information centered on wellness, professional development, and overall assistance during this difficult time.
When it comes to bartending, knowledge really is power. It’s easy to get stuck in the cycle of work and play, so taking a step back to stay educated beyond cocktail specs and service related to your establishment is important, especially during a time that we could consider the golden age of drink-related literature. Whether you want to brush up on how to properly build a round of drinks, understand a bit more about dilution and temperature as it relates to the optimal cocktail, or just learn more about a specific spirit category, there are many books to choose from to help you with your bartending knowledge. Here are five essential books every bartender should read:
“Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions” by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, David Kaplan, and Devon Tarby (Amazon: $26.51)
A James Beard Award winner in 2019, winner of the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for best new cocktail or bartending book, and also named one of the best cookbooks of the year by Chicago Tribune, Cocktail Codex is an absolute must-read written by the Death & Co. team for both experienced bartenders looking to refine their craft by learning new techniques that they may be unfamiliar with, such as carbonating cocktails, various syrup-making methods, or the role of acid types in cocktail-making; or for new bartenders who could benefit from some foundational knowledge, such as how the Old-Fashioned is related to the Sherry Cobbler, Sazerac, and Ti’ Punch, and how to think about cocktail structure.
“Cocktail Codex” accomplishes this by giving readers six different cocktail templates, from which all cocktails can be traced back to: the Old-Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Whisky Highball, and flip. They make the point that, once you understand the hows and whys of each “family,” you’ll understand why certain ingredients will find balance versus not, when to use one technique instead of another, when you can employ the Mr. Potato Head method of substituting one ingredient for another, and more.
“Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail” by Dave Arnold (Amazon: $23.79)
A winner of the 2015 James Beard Award for Best Beverage Book and the 2015 IACP Jane Grigson Award, this book is an examination of what makes the perfect cocktail through a scientific lens. (It’s more of a chemistry book than anything else, to be completely honest.) Arnold, the mad booze scientist, and his collaborators investigate temperature and dilution, carbonation, sugar content, and acidity to understand what perfect balance looks like in various cocktail formats. Arnold includes chapters on the handling and role of liquid nitrogen in cocktails, chitosan/gellan washing, and clarification via high-tech equipment such as the centrifuge, as well as other methods of clarification as well. This book is not for the light-hearted, but it is a great source of reference for curious, detail-oriented bartenders that like to know the hows and whys to all-things cocktail-related. “Liquid Intelligence” is an absolute essential, and has played a large role in why the bar industry is where it is today.
“Meehan’s Bartender Manual” by Jim Meehan (Amazon: $22.49)
A winner of the 2018 James Beard Foundation Cookbook Award in “Beverage” category, and also a winner of the 2018 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book, Jim Meehan, a contemporary cocktail pioneer, pours his years of experience in hospitality, knowledge of cocktails, and connections with some of the most influential individuals in the spirits world into this genuine bartender bible. Meehan covers the essential topics, including the history of cocktails and bartending, service, hospitality, menu development, bar design, spirits production, drink mixing technique, and the tools you’ll need to create a well-stocked bar.
The book includes recipes for 100 cocktail classics—including some of Meehan’s originals—plus insights as to why he makes them the way he does. For bartenders who are just coming into the industry today, this book is everything you need. Meehan establishes himself as the modern day Jerry Thomas with this exquisite piece of literature. This will be a book that stands the test of time – being a source of reference for bartenders for the following decades and beyond.
“I’m Just Here for the Drinks: A Guide to Spirits, Drinking and More Than 100 Extraordinary Cocktails” by Sother Teague (Amazon: $17.97)
Wine Enthusiast’s 2017 “Mixologist of the Year,” and barman at one of the World’s Best Bar’s, Amor y Amargo, Sother Teague, gives readers a brief overview of some of the core spirits that bartenders should know, paired with some witty wisdom and clever cocktails. “I’m Just Here for the Drinks” is a great light read for bartenders looking to brush up on their historical facts as it relates to drinking cocktails and spirits, and is a great source for some drinkspiration. Teague’s backbar-focused approach to cocktail-making is low-maintenance, yet inventive, which makes his recipes accessible for any bartender. And, if you’re an amaro-lover like Teague is, then you are in for a treat with some of his deliciously bitter recipes.
“The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart (Amazon: $13.19)
This book has been around since 2013, but still holds significance as the botanical guide for bartenders and drink-makers of all sorts. Stewart introduces readers to almost every herb, tree, flower, spice, grain, fruit, and bark imaginable through the lens of cocktails and spirits. “The Drunken Botanist” will leave readers with an understanding of the various ingredients that make your favorite spirits, for example, the various grains and vegetables that can make a whiskey, or vodka, as well as almost every botanical that you’d find in a gin as well.
The book features several types of informative sidebars as well. The most practical are the recipes for syrups, pickles, and liqueurs such as limoncello; and Stewart’s expert advice on how to grow some of these ingredients at home and what their ideal temperatures, and conditions are. This book is essentially the deconstruction of booze to their most raw form, and it is an excellent read for bartenders looking to understand a bit more about what they’re drinking, where the ingredients come from, and their historical relevance.