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.
This month, we’re highlighting three books written by top barkeeps. At once entertaining, educational and informative, each of these books offers hard-won advice from the pros. Plus, buying or preordering these books—try shopping at Bookshop or Indiebound to give a local bookstore some love—is one way to help support your favorite bartenders.
“Great Northern Cocktails”
Shawn Soole (Mixellany Limited, $26)
A guide to the cocktail bars (and bartenders) of Canada, penned by Victoria, British Columbia, barman Shawn Soole, “Great Northern Cocktails” is organized by region. You could use this book armchair travel, but at heart it’s a cocktail book, not a travelogue. Each page spotlights a specific bartender and one of their original cocktails. This is not Cocktails 101; many of the drinks are showpieces, featuring esoteric ingredients and advanced techniques. For example, the Death for Breakfast, from Manitoba bartender Elsa Taylor, is made with rum and Froot Loop orgeat, served in a cereal bowl and garnished with a hollowed-out orange filled with absinthe and set aflame.
Steal this tip: Soole publishes the recipe for his own “weird house syrup” in the back of the book. It’s the result of years of experimentation: 1.5 parts turbinado sugar to 1 part water, simmered until dissolved. It yields “the perfect ratio for brown and white spirits, spirit-forward to mixed,” he says.
“Spirits of Latin America”
Ivy Mix (Ten Speed Press, $25)
The proprietor of Brooklyn’s Leyenda traveled through Mexico, the Caribbean and South America along with photographer Shannon Sturgis to research this delightful deep-dive explainer about the spirits made in these areas. The book, peppered with Mix’s opinions and observations, overflows with information about the history and production of these spirits and the cocktails made with them. As Mix explains in the introduction, “I want big flavors to create my drinks from, and to me, no other group of spirits has more life and vivaciousness and Technicolor flavor than those from Latin America.”
Steal this tip: “After my visit to St. Lucia, I ended up thinking of spiced rum as a cocktail in and of itself, and I tried making a few different drinks based around it. My preference is for unsweetened spiced rums, but try making an infusion yourself with different spices and then mix up a simple Daiquiri from it. The results can be delicious and wonderfully varied.”
“Unvarnished: A Gimlet-Eyed Look at Life Behind the Bar”
Eric Alperin, co-written by Deborah Stoll (Harper Wave, $28)
“Unvarnished” is not quite a traditional memoir, which means it can be opened and read from pretty much any section without losing the thread. The first and last sections of the book, which was written by the proprietor of Los Angeles bar The Varnish, follow Alperin’s journey from struggling actor to bartender at New York’s Little Branch in 2004, at the dawn of the cocktail revolution, then transfer to L.A. where he opened The Varnish with Milk & Honey icon Sasha Petraske. The middle of the book transforms into a bar manual and cocktail guide, followed by stream-of-consciousness meditations on topics such as The Varnish’s unique bar slang, notes on POS systems and music in bars, and a list of 10 reasons not to date a bartender.
Steal this tip: “Start building your drinks with the cheapest ingredients first and move up to the more expensive. If you screw up and have to toss your batch, you won’t end up tossing the pricey booze, only the citrus and syrups.”