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.
If this year’s goals include upgrading your bar game, there are books that can help get you there. Whether it’s honing your hospitality chops, sharpening your drink-making techniques or crafting the ultimate locavore cocktail, inspiration awaits.
Gary Regan (Clarkson Potter, $30)
Groundbreaking bartender Gary (Gaz) Regan passed away in November 2019, and his legacy includes this seminal book, first published in 2003 and revised in 2018.
While there’s plenty to learn from Regan’s tips on the foundations of drink making and plenty of recipes and charts that outline the taxonomy of various cocktail families, the meat of this book is Regan’s thoughts on “mindful bartending,” particularly a chapter new to the revised edition called “The Bartender: Do You Have What It Takes?” In essence, Regan counsels that the role of the bartender is not only to mix drinks but “guiding the ambiance” of a bar via attentiveness and intuition.
Excerpt: "In order to be mindful, think about taking a little time—five to 10 minutes should do it—to sit quietly on your own and set your intentions for the night ahead.... Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath, becoming aware of your body and your surroundings.... When you open your eyes, set your intentions for your shift. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make lots of money, that end may naturally follow if you focus on helping others and bringing a little sunshine to everyone you interact with while you’re behind the bar."
Leo Robitschek (Penguin Random House, $30)
Originally packaged as a slim companion inside “The NoMad Cookbook,” this revised standalone edition finally receives the spotlight it deserves. Penned by Leo Robitschek, the bar director for Make It Nice, which includes The NoMad in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and London, 100-plus recipes were added to this edition, for a total of 300 cocktails, handsomely packaged in black with forest-green endpapers.
Don’t come to this book expecting cocktails 101. In general, the drinks are complex and multifaceted. But it’s also a book brimming with Easter eggs. Plan to spend quality time with the material in the front and back of the book. If you want to know how pros at the top of their game build drinks (start with the smallest-volume ingredients first) or make nifty ingredients like ambrosial brandied cherries (simmer them first in syrup infused with orange peel and spices), it’s all in here, with enough authoritative detail to ensure success.
Excerpt: "At The NoMad, we do not actually “muddle” any herbs—we gently tamp them in whichever sweetener is used in a recipe. Muddling herbs—pressing with a pestle or muddler—extracts tannins and other bitter, muddy flavors that are unwanted in most cocktails.... There is no need to muddle the herbs in any cocktails that are shaken. The ice will work as a muddler and extract all your essential oils and desired aromas."
Mike Wolf (Turner Publishing Company, $27)
Mike Wolf, who formerly ran the hyperseasonal cocktail program at Nashville’s Husk (and now of Chopper Tiki bar), encourages bartenders to grow their own herbs, fruit and vegetables and harvest them to make teas, tinctures, cordials, bitters and elixirs of all kinds. Wolf intersperses gardening advice near Q&As with farmers and chefs, plus lots of recipes. If you already have a copy of Amy Stewart’s “The Drunken Botanist” on your shelf, this is the perfect companion.
“Every new season gives you something new to grow,” says Wolf, in his encouraging you-can-do-it tone. For those who can’t wait for warmer months, easy-to-grow herbs are a key feature for transforming drinks. Wolf also includes a seasonal calendar of ingredients. Bartenders living in sun-starved regions, for example, should know that winter includes hazelnuts, citrus and winter savory, while “pre-spring” extends to pine, lemongrass and rosemary.
Excerpt: "The bramble, made with gin, blackberry and lemon, is one of those classic gin drinks that has stood the test of time. However ... the bramble cocktail begs to be expanded on.... There’s one thing missing: herbs. Especially the potent lemon-flavored herbs like lemon balm and lemon verbena. These herbs, with their citrusy aroma and flavor, go well with almost any style of gin; in fact, they are even used in the recipes for some gins, like Colorado’s Dry Town gin and Monkey 47."