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.
From the hard shake to highballs, Japan has a long history of codifying the rituals of bartending. It’s only within the last decade or so that the Western world has embraced many of the tools, techniques and ingredients associated with Japanese bartending.
The first book that helped demystify Japanese bartending was “Cocktail Techniques,” written by Japanese bartender Kazuo Uyeda in 2000 and translated and published in English in 2010. From there, countless bartenders around the globe learned to master the craft of chipping ice into flawless diamond and sphere formations and soon acquired Yarai mixing glasses and long-handled bar spoons for stirring drinks with practiced, graceful intention.
More than a decade after that turnkey English-language translation, two new books from U.S. bartenders with Japanese heritage and Japan-inspired bar programs continue the tradition. Naturally, there’s some overlap between the two, although the voices and cocktails within are distinctly different.
These are three bar books to sample this month, with excerpts that spotlight how each views the now-classic hard shake technique.
Kazuo Uyeda (Mud Puddle Books, $30)
Of course Uyeda, who opened Tender Bar in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1997, isn’t the only practitioner of Japan’s cocktail craft, but he was the one to distill its collective philosophies and methods into this groundbreaking book. After U.S. publisher Mud Puddle released the book in English, “the Japanese way of bartending” coalesced into a movement of sorts. Of note, Uyeda pioneered the hard shake, a technique intended to create better aeration, temperature and texture in cocktails. There’s nothing quite like reading about it in his own words.
Excerpt: “Let me describe what I picture a shake should be. Imagine the constituent element of alcohol as a square. Most people tend to think of shaking as a way of rounding the sharp corners of that square, but as I see it, I’m forcing the air into that square causing it to puff out and become rounder. In other words, the aeration acts like a cushion that prevents the bite of the ingredients and the sharpness of the alcohol from directly attacking the tongue. The bubbles expand the alcohol, and the flavor becomes softer. Those constituent elements of the alcohol, which are bunched together, gradually become one. This is the way I visualize what’s happening when I shake the shaker. Creating aeration is the ultimate goal of my hard shake.”
Masahiro Urushido and Michael Anstendig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)
While many people associate Japan-inspired bars with formality and hushed, serious service, this book embodies the more whimsical side of Japan: Think Hello Kitty and pachinko parlors. Written by Masa Urushido, the head bartender and self-titled director of deliciousness at NYC’s Katana Kitten, which opened in 2018, the content of this book, released June 2021, is authoritative but comes wrapped in bright hues and high spirits. Recipes include lengthy sections dedicated to Highballs and Boilermakers, as well as relatively complex, aspirational cocktails like the playful Panda Fizz, a vodka-based drink mixed with pandan and Calpico, a Japanese soft drink with a yogurt-like tang and milky appearance.
Excerpt: “At Katana Kitten, I played around with my own version of the hard shake that achieves unique results. I call it fluffy style. If I’m making a Daiquiri, for example, I’ll take a two-piece shaker and pack the larger tin with ice. In the small tin, I add 2 ounces rum, 1 ounce lime juice and 3/4 ounce simple syrup. This mixture goes into a Vitamix I keep behind the bar, and I blend the heck out of it. I’m careful not to blend it too long, as eventually the blender’s motor will generate heat, which will ‘cook’ the contents and should be absolutely avoided. The mixture becomes hypersaturated with air bubbles and is then strained into the large tin with the ice, capped with the small tin and shaken hard. The resulting drink is strained into a frozen glass, and the texture is, well, fluffy.”
Julia Momosé with Emma Janzen (Clarkson Potter, $32)
Kyoto native Julia Momosé, now the proprietor of Chicago bar kumiko, dives deep in this book, due for release in October 2021. One of its most charming aspects is the emphasis on “microseasons,” the 72 subdivisions of the traditional Japanese calendar, with vivid, poetic names. For example, spring includes microseasons “swallows return,” “wild geese fly north” and “first rainbows.” Momosé uses these microseasons to organize the drink recipes and introduce ingredients, many sourced from Japan. The cocktails are generally straightforward and easy to make, though some specialty ingredients are required.
Excerpt: “Japanese-made bar tools are lauded for their balance, aesthetic and precision. In Japanese bar culture, the tools also inform the style and technique of the bartender. The form of the bartender springs forth from the function of the tool. There is significance in the way a seasoned bartender wields their tools in harmony with their own physicality, ever ensuring the tool serves its function in creating a better drink. … Uyeda-san’s hard shake is not solely about the velocity of the movement; it was a shake specific to him. You cannot shake a cocktail hard and make a drink like Uyeda-san because the technique only works properly if you are in the same bar with the same ice and the same tools and have the same stature, rhythm and balance. That’s why every bartender should have their own unique style and technique. Every bartender is different!”