The Basics Tips & Tricks

3 Books Every Bartender Needs to Read for Black History Month

Essential reading for bartenders throughout Black History Month and beyond.

Book covers
Image: / Laura Sant

The best bartenders are also bookworms, constantly researching the latest tastes and trends. But with so many new 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.

Traditionally, cocktail books haven’t reflected the diversity of the bar world at-large. However, that’s slowly changing. A scan of recently published drink books, as well as the lineup of titles in the pipeline for 2020, show more inclusivity. It seems publishers are finally selecting a broader range of authors and voices, which is good news.

In honor of Black History Month, we’re spotlighting three recent bar books penned by Black authors. From an encyclopedic cocktail collection to a fresh view of the Tiki-sphere to a historic bartending guide republished a century after its initial printing, these are books to seek not only in February but all year round.

  • “Drink: The Ultimate Cocktail Book”

    Drink: The Ultimate Cocktail Book cover, dark brown background with a red cocktail in a coupette sitting on a black surface next to a halved orange. Cover is framed by a gray and white ice-textured composite background / Laura Sant

    Kurt Maitland (Cider Mill Press, $35)

    This weighty door stopper contains more than 1,100 cocktail recipes, plus trivia and drink-making techniques. The wide-ranging compilation offers inspiration for pros seeking to build drink menus. Highlights include a solid whiskey chapter—as would be expected from Maitland, a whiskey expert and the deputy editor of The Whiskey Reviewer—and on-trend, creative zero-proof “infusions,” such as Apple & Fennel Water in the lengthy nonalcoholic drinks section.

    Preview: “A simple rule of thumb is that if the other ingredients are sweet, you may want a scotch with a bit of smoke to cut the sweetness. Otherwise, you are pouring maple syrup on top of honey. Likewise, if the other ingredients are bitter or sour, a non-smoky scotch may be your best option.”

  • “The Ideal Bartender”

    The Ideal Bartender cover, crimson with gold Prohibition-era text and a horseshoe motif. Cover is framed by a gray and white ice-textured composite background / Laura Sant

    Tom Bullock (reprinted by Cocktail Kingdom, $25; first published in 1917; reprinted in 2017 with introduction by Ian Burrell)

    Bullock was the first Black author to publish a cocktail book. “The Ideal Bartender,” released in 1917, was one of the last drink collections published before Prohibition. Cocktail Kingdom’s imprint republished it a century after its initial debut, with an introduction by Ian Burrell. He writes, “In a time that offered precious few career options for an ambitious Black person, Bullock’s talents behind the bar were highly regarded, first in his position as bartender for The Pendennis Club in Louisville, then on a railroad club car and finally at the elite St. Louis Country Club, 240 miles west of his home town.”

    Though Bullock’s career was cut short by the Volstead Act of 1919, his book still provides a fascinating look at pre-Prohibition American drinking culture and trends.

    Preview: Drinks include the Gillette Cocktail “Chicago Style” (Old Tom gin, lime and bar sugar), believed to be an early take on the classic Gimlet. Oddities like the Celery Sour (equal parts lemon juice, pineapple syrup and celery bitters) and the Diarrhea Draught (blackberry and peach brandies, 2 dashes of Jamaica ginger, and grated nutmeg) show innovation and a sense of humor that modern-day barkeeps will appreciate.

  • “Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails”

    Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails cover featuring a bright yellow cocktail in a coupette garnished with two palm fronds sitting on a yellow surface in front of a dark green and blue tropical leaf design. Cover is framed by a gray and white ice-textured composite background / Laura Sant

    Shannon Mustipher (Rizzoli, $30)

    The former beverage director of now-shuttered Brooklyn rum bar Glady’s, Mustipher focuses on de-mystifying Tiki by focusing on ingredients and flavors. Basic “foundational cocktails” lead into Tiki classics and more complex tropical drinks from there, such as those that involve fat-washing or unusual additions like avocado.

    As Mustipher explained in this Q&A: “It’s not canonical Tiki; it’s a culinary approach to how you create a cocktail.” Indeed, she shines at explaining how various spirits and other ingredients work together and help build layers in notoriously complex Tiki cocktails. These notations, woven into the instructions for most recipes, provide helpful knowledge for building a spirits collection and using those bottles in drink riffs.

    Preview: “Pineapple syrup is one of my personal favorites, which I frequently use in place of simple syrup to give any cocktail an extra tropical gloss.” She combines a double batch of simple syrup (2 cups each of sugar and water) with about 2 cups of chopped pineapple in an airtight container, which steeps, refrigerated, for 48 hours. After straining out the solids, the pineapple syrup is ready for drinks like a pineapple-accented Daiquiri.