The Basics Tips & Tricks

3 Books on Building a Brand Every Bartender Needs to Read This Month

If you’re contemplating a career pivot, these books are invaluable.

Book covers
Image: / Laura Sant

It’s no secret that growing numbers of bar pros are looking to build their own brands, including launching spirits or establishing canned-cocktail empires. For those who are contemplating such a pivot, the following books have plenty of advice and wisdom to share. 

For starters, a well-known U.S. bar consultant shares his tips on the art of the hustle. Next up, a spirits expert based in China reveals all about the best-selling spirits category in the world, including his journey to launch his own spirits brand. And finally, a veteran marketer who has worked with myriad spirits brands, including the top-selling cream liqueur, entertains with reminiscences about the heyday of spirits marketing in England and elsewhere around the globe, a kind of “Mad Men” for the booze set.

  • “Bartender as a Business: Building Agency from Craft”

    Bartender as a Business cover / Laura Sant

    Jason Littrell (Absolute Author Publishing House, $10)

    Business self-help books abound, but this may be the only one to speak directly to bartenders. Career bartender and consultant Littrell walks readers through concepts such as building a brand, evaluating business opportunities and setting up the infrastructure of a brand. Overall, this is a practical guide, loaded with actionable lists of useful tools and bullet-pointed steps to take.

    Excerpt: “Imagine if you would go into your customer’s face promoting your brand, convincing them why they need your services. It would freak them out and ruin the relationship you have. You can’t do that. But what you can do, and have done as a bartender, is help make decisions for people who came to you already convinced that they need your drink. … You can make them feel special, and consequently, you earn a special place in their hearts. … As a marketer, you follow similar tactics—you overdeliver.”

  • “Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture”

    Drunk in China cover / Laura Sant

    Derek Sandhaus (Potomac Books, $30)

    This thoroughly researched book focuses on China’s most famous spirit, baijiu. While Sandhaus’ own journey to learn about baijiu provides the framework (spoiler alert: he’s now a co-founder of Ming River baijiu), the core of this book dives deep into the connections between China and its most popular liquor, and the developments that have pushed the world’s best-selling spirit beyond its borders. Some of the chapters lead off with baijiu-spiked cocktail recipes for good measure.

    Excerpt: “That afternoon, at the ballroom of a luxury hotel that smelled of fresh paint, there was a forum on baijiu’s international development. … I was the lone foreign speaker. I told the audience that I thought baijiu’s future lay overseas and the time to strike was now. I concluded my remarks with a rhetorical question: ‘Who will launch the first great international baijiu brand?’ In truth, I was hoping that it would be me. A team of like-minded outsiders and I had been secretly negotiating with one of China’s oldest and most esteemed distilleries for months. With any luck, we would launch a brand in the coming years.”

  • “That Sh*t Will Never Sell: A Book About Ideas by the Person Who Had Them”

    That Sh*t Will Never Sell cover / Laura Sant

    David Gluckman (Prideaux Press, $30)

    Penned by the co-creator of Baileys Irish cream and Coole Swan cream liqueur, this 2017 book should be required reading for anyone contemplating starting their own spirits brand or is involved in spirits PR or marketing. It’s a crash course on how spirits have been marketed, from the 1960s through the aughts, written by someone who was in the “Mad Men” trenches. Written in a tight business-magazine format, this book is full of pithy case studies and wry storytelling.

    Excerpt: “We originally named the brand Prost (meaning ‘good luck’ or ‘cheers’ in German) to give it a kind of continental lager feel. We thought that a few people would be familiar with the term, and the French motor racing driver Alain Prost added further respectability to it. The Prost brand name died the death after a single comment by a young lady in a focus group. … This woman said, ‘I can’t imagine going up to a bar and asking for a bottle of Prost. It reminds me of prostitutes or prostates.’ She was absolutely right, and we knew exactly what she meant. We dumped the name immediately.”