The best bartenders are also bookworms, constantly researching the latest tastes and trends. But with so many titles to choose from, it’s easy to wind up lost in a sea of stale prose and sloppy recipes. We’ve paged through the stack to give you the essential booze books to read this month.
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For bartenders, that has traditionally meant in-person training sessions or interactions at conferences, cocktail competitions, or other face-to-face activities. Much of that shifted online during the pandemic, and some in-person interactions have slowly started to return. But the enforced downtime of the past year-and-a-half led some bar pros to put their thought processes –and recipes—into book format.
Of course, the volumes below aren’t the first pandemic-era books penned by bartenders. Just as traditional publishers hit the brakes on cocktail books in 2020, nimble bartenders picked up the slack, speedily self-publishing books in digital and on-demand print formats, many doubling as fundraisers for the battered hospitality community.
Compared to books intended for broad appeal to a mainstream consumer audience, most of these bar books have a deliberately narrow focus, whether that means diving deep into a regional market or indulging in a quirky point of view. Each of the following publications offers a little something extra, from interesting observations about bar techniques to local variations on classic drinks. Because these have bypassed the filter of commercial editing, they’re not watered down for beginners, but offered in the lingo and voice of seasoned experts, with more complex recipes than the norm. It’s as close to bartender-to-bartender as you can get without actually being in the room or on the Zoom.
Mike Wolf ($30 hardcover; $10 digital)
From Nashville bar pro Wolf, who also wrote Garden to Glass, this compilation started as Lost Spring: How We Cocktailed Through Crisis, an e-book published in August 2020 to raise funds for Tennessee Action for Hospitality. Barantined—an obvious portmanteau of “bar” and “quarantined”—is an expanded version published in July 2021 via Turner Publishing, including drink recipes and thoughts from bar pros around the country about the pandemic and its impact on hospitality and their own lives, which Wolf collected via questionnaire.
Excerpt: “The phrase ‘Lost Spring’ …. was a reference to all the ideas and beautiful cocktails that, in the cold and leafless days of early March, were being fleshed out in bars all over the country, that would now be lost to time and circumstance. ... In the spring of 2021, will we get right back on the horse and dust these ideas off? Not so fast, it appears, and by the time spring of 2021 rolls around, beverage professionals will have more new ideas (some will even have new careers), filtered through all the time they spent pondering, reading, writing, and listening. Getting inspired. That’s one thing about the time away from bartending for so many professionals: There was time to reinvest in our own well-being, be creative, slow down a little.”
Fiona Arnold ($49 hardcover; $40 paperback)
A compilation of appetizer and cocktail recipes from Denver bars, proceeds from sales benefit the establishments that contributed to the book. The brainchild of Fiona Arnold, the co-owner of Denver cocktail bar Room for Milly as well as Blue Sparrow Coffee and Queens Eleven, the book is notable for its beautiful images (the work of delightfully named photographer Andi Whiskey) and insider-y tips.
Excerpt: “Perfectly clear ice is right up there with leprechauns and unicorns. Perfectly clear ice at home is like riding that unicorn over a rainbow. Wintersmith Ice Molds are the tool that will get you the closest to riding that unicorn. Don’t ruin a perfect drink with bad ice.”
Maks Pazuniak and Al Sotack ($20 for print and PDF; $10 for PDF only)
An old-school zine seems the right medium for Brooklyn’s quirky retro-minded Jupiter Disco. This scrappy black, white, and hot-pink volume contains some of the bar’s greatest-hit cocktails, and also essays (see a snippet from Sotack’s “Sweet Memory,” below) Q&As, playlists, and all manner of random morsels and gleeful profanities.
Excerpt: “As a bartender, whenever I have a flavor I want to mess with, I sit and I think about what the best application is going to be in a drink. I think about consistency during service, about how the drink’s most likely to be replicated by the person behind the bar when it’s actually being served. I think about longevity. In a bar context, syrups are often the best solution to all those issues. At home, keeping a bottle of grenadine in the fridge is functional. I find uses for it—a splash in sparkling water or an impromptu El Presidente at 2 a.m. More importantly perhaps it is a symbolic victory: For today at least, we live in a world where the Jack Rose is still a possibility.”