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Great Reads For Behind The Bar

By Lara Creasy

Every bar should have a small library of books on its shelves to inspire the staff, serve as reference for classic recipes and to let guests with wandering eyes know how seriously you take your program.

As my friend Eduardo Guzman, beverage director for Colletta in Alpharetta, points out, reaching for a reference book behind the bar always looks more professional than pulling out your phone to research an unfamiliar recipe.

Beyond the bar, every industry professional should have a home library full of great beverage books to further your education and excite your curiosity. The following are a few that my peers and I recommend for reference, for innovative recipes, for gorgeous photography and for just geeking out on the details of what we do.

Meehan’s Bartender Manual
By Jim Meehan with photographs by Doron Gild and illustrations by Gianmarco Magnani (2017, Ten Speed Press)

With a cover like an old-fashioned primary school textbook, this bartending book makes no bones about the fact that it is written by a professional for professionals.

Rather than penning just another compendium of recipes, renowned bartender Jim Meehan (formerly of New York’s James Beard Award-winning PDT) tackles the topic of bartending itself.

The book features chapters on how to choose a location and a winning concept for your bar, as well as tips on how to design a workable bar, set it up for service and efficiently build a round from a service ticket.

With the addition of words of wisdom from Meehan’s peers in the industry and impossibly gorgeous photographs of his drink recipes, this is quickly becoming a must-read for any serious bartender and a staple behind most respected bars.

Liquid Intelligence
By Dave Arnold (2014, W.W. Norton & Co.)

is is a 400-page, master’s level text that really takes bartending to the next level. Dave Arnold, the brains behind New York’s Booker + Dax, is more scientist than he is barkeep, and he breaks down everything from how ice forms to the best way to extract flavors in an infusion. This might be over the heads of the casual bartender or home enthusiast, but for professionals who want to dive deeper, it might become an obsession.

“I find the majority of my technique firmly planted in modernist cooking,” says Cole Younger Just, beverage consultant and partner in Atlanta-based Just Walk Consulting. “Dave Arnold’s technical masterpiece, Liquid Intelligence, is the bar’s equivalent to Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. Arnold breaks down the science behind cocktails.
“Upon reading this book, the creative process for me raced in an unbridled direction toward being highly analytical. I now would find it difficult to operate without a centrifuge or a tank of CO2 for force carbonating,” he adds.

Imbibe! and Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl
By David Wondrich (2015 and 2010, Tarcher Perigree)

“I have yet to find a more entertaining or informative read than Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe!,” says Just. “While I typically encourage this read to get an understanding of the ‘movement’ that we are part of in terms of the bar, I find myself utilizing the exhaustive research that Mr. Wondrich puts into a recipe by starting out my own recipe development with a classic in Imbibe! Palates have most certainly changed and technology has opened up doors to exceedingly different techniques, but for a historical approach to a classic, there’s none better than Imbibe!”

The first edition of this classic won a James Beard award in 2007. This updated version includes even more historical findings, such as the origin of the Mint Julep, and even more colorful anecdotes about the life and work of Jerry Thomas, the father of American bartending. Histories and recipes for more than 100 punches, sours, slings, toddies and fizzes make this a must-read for any serious bartender, or even serious enthusiast.

As a companion piece, Wondrich’s other classic tome Punch dives deep into the historical precursor to the cocktail. “The first cocktail book I ever read was David Wondrich’s Punch when I started bartending in the Oyster Bar at the Optimist, where punches are a staple,” says Matt Scott, now beverage manager at Decatur’s White Bull. “It was my first bartending gig, and all I had to offer to the team was a desire to work hard and learn as much as possible. I remember how proud I was when I made my first super basic oleo-saccharum, which I’ve altered over the years but is now a staple at The White Bull.”

More for historical study than practical modern advice, Punch offers inspiration nonetheless. Try the Philadelphia Fish House Punch. It’s a personal favorite.

Bar Book
By Jeffrey Morgenthaler with photography by Alanna Hale (2014, Chronicle Books)

Just calls this “likely the most approachable bar book that I internally deem the ‘manual.’ I like that it’s a comprehensive and easy-to-digest book that just gets it right without over-complicating things. Great technique, well researched practices and good recipes.”

Written by Portland, Ore.’s own star bartender and blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler, this book breaks down bartending technique bit by bit and gives 60 recipes with how-to photographs to illustrate the topics. Look for genius ideas like making your bar team practice their shaking technique with rice, and how to rig a “MacGyver” centrifuge using cheesecloth and a salad spinner.

Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails
By David Kaplan and Nick Fauchald (2014, Ten Speed Press)

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a bartender or cocktail-lover who didn’t recommend this book. Just says they “knocked it out of the park” with their gorgeous photography. Kara Newman, Wine Enthusiast’s Spirits Editor, says it’s a book she picks up again and again for techniques and recipes.

Death & Co. is one of the most influential cocktail bars in America, a destination for cocktail-lovers from all over the world and winner of Tales of the Cocktail’s Best Cocktail Bar in America award. The book includes a complete education on cocktail theory and technique, essays about the characters that inhabit Death & Co.’s bar each night and over 500 recipes from their menus, many of which are already modern classics.

If you want your bar staff to be inspired or to step up their technique and their creativity, this is the book you want behind your bar.

By Brad Thomas Parsons with photographs by Ed Anderson (2016, Ten Speed Press)

“Sometimes when you walk into a bar for the very first time, you immediately know that it’s going to be one of your favorites.” Faielle Stocco shared this favorite quote from the introduction to Amaro by Brad Thomas Parsons, in which he describes his first visit to Seattle’s Barnacle, a bar that stocks over 40 styles of Italian amaro. As Stocco prepared to open her own bar, East Atlanta’s Banshee, in late June, this notion must have been at the front of her mind.

“My favorite books are the ones that not only offer history, but also showcase old classics and new renditions throughout the world that are making waves. And the books I also find myself going back to are the ones closely associated to my favorite things: amari, vermouth and bitters.”

She mentions Amaro as a favorite for its innovative recipes and its beautiful photography. In the book, Parsons offers details and tasting notes on virtually every brand of aperitivo, digestivo and aromatized wine on the market, as well as cocktail recipes to utilize them, and even instructions on how to make your own amaro. All of that makes this a fantastic reference for bartenders, and Stocco confirms that she and business partner Katie McDonald plan to keep the title in their small library behind the stick at Banshee.

Colletta’s Guzman says he found Amaro to be very helpful as a reference regarding the culture and history of amaro, to show the staff what he was really trying to achieve with the program at Colletta.

“Amaro is always a hard topic for the staff to wrap their head around, but this book’s focus on the topic makes it very easy for the staff to understand,” he says.

By Marisa Ruff with photographs by Andrea Fazzari (2016, Rizzoli International Publications)

As soon as this book was released, I got a copy not only for myself but also for the library behind the bar at Decatur’s No. 246. The book is a virtual tour of the regions of northern Italy,offering a glimpse of the classic appetizers served in those regions paired with the simple cocktails bars would serve with them. Happy hour in Italy isn’t about getting tipsy on cheap drinks. On the contrary, the point is to whet the appetite for dinner, with a low-ABV cocktail and a sophisticated bar snack.

American bars could learn something from the Italians about offering more low-alcohol drinks to encourage guests to linger longer. The recipes for spritzes, bellini and amaro-based cocktails offered in this book are a good place to start for inspiration to up your low-ABV game.

Wine Bible
By Karen MacNeil (2015, Workman Publishing Company)

Karen MacNeil’s 1,000+ page reference book on the world’s wine regions is viewed by many in the industry, including Danny Meyer and Thomas Keller and me, as one of the greatest books on wine ever written. MacNeil’s way with words really brings wine – something that can be an intimidating topic to many – down to earth. She describes Riesling as “a great crackling bolt of lightning” and the wines of Hermitage as having the “salty, almost sweaty allure of a man’s body.” It’s practically poetry, if it weren’t so darn informative, too.

Guzman points out that the book is a great resource to use as a guide for staff trainings.

“I probably go to Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible more than any other wine reference book on a day-to-day basis,” Just says. “Her poetic style of writing about wine is intoxicating, and I always find it hard to put the book down when I am just trying to find something quick – I just keep digging and turning pages.” Same here, Cole. Same here.

Nightcap: More Than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening
By Kara Newman with photography by Antonis Achilleos (2018, Chronicle Books)

I was lucky enough to be contacted by Newman as she was writing her latest book, Nightcap. She wanted to use one of my recipes in the book, and of course I immediately agreed!

Nightcap contains more than 40 cocktail recipes – some to keep the night going, some that will help ease you to sleep, some that can double as dessert and some that can soothe the stomach after a hearty meal.

“I’m a home bartender, not a pro,” says Newman. “So I value cocktail books that focus on drinks I can actually make, without relying heavily on specialty ingredients; drinks that are different than the usual classics; and recipes that actually WORK – you’d be surprised how many don’t. I also enjoy beautiful photos that inspire and make me thirsty.”

I, for one, can’t wait until the publication of this fun little book. When you pick up your copy, be sure to mix up a “Sleep Tight,” courtesy of yours truly!

A Few Other Suggestions to Round Out Your Drink Library
Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz
By Kat Odell (2017, Workman Publishing Company)
“The photos have a beautiful dreamy quality,” according to Wine Enthusiast Spirits Editor Kara Newman.

Mezcal: The History, Craft and Cocktails of the World’s Most Artisanal Spirit
By Emma Jantzen (2017, Voyageur Press)
“Makes me want to plan a trip to Oaxaca!” says Newman. I couldn’t agree more.

Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki
By Martin and Rebecca Cate (2016, Ten Speed Press)
Recommended by both beverage consultant Cole Just and Newman, for great tiki drinks and DIY falernum and orgeat. Winner of the 2017 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Beverage.

By Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau (2016, Ten Speed Press)
A deep dive into the very simplest and most refreshing of cocktails.

The Brewmaster’s Table
By Garrett Oliver (2003, Ecco/Harper Collins)
A definitive guide to pairing beer with food.

Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All
By Brad Thomas Parsons (2011, Ten Speed Press)
Similar to what he did for the topic of Amaro, but all about bitters, including making your own.

Regarding Cocktails
By Sasha Petraske (2016, Phaedon Press)
“It was the first book to really challenge me to be better as a bartender,” says Matt Scott, beverage director at White Bull in Decatur. “The commentary and imagery of the book, with its simple illustrations, constantly reminds me that less is more.”

Lara Creasy is a consultant with more than 15 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as Superica and BeetleCat through her consulting business Four 28, LLC.


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