Recently, over at the Epicurious blog they had a post detailing their ten must-read books for cooks and gastronomes. I figured, “What a great idea, I should steal this for my own website!”
So here are my recommendations for the top ten books any bartender or home mixologist should keep within arm’s reach at all times.
1. Cosmopolitan: A Bartender’s Life by Toby Cecchini
Cecchini nails the quotidian life of a bartender down with the sort of accuracy that only a true lifer could. A must-read for anyone currently or formerly in the business, or just those with mild flirtations or aspirations.
You can buy this brilliant take on the business here. Better yet, pick up an extra copy and leave it as a tip for your favorite barkeep – if they haven’t read it already.
2. The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan
If Gary’s chapter on drink families were the only chapter in this book, it would still be worth the cover price. This is probably my all-time favorite guide to mixology and bartending, all wrapped up in one place.
You can buy the Joy of Mixology here. Put it someplace handy, use the hell out of it, and then pick up another copy when you can no longer read the first.
3. Kindred Spirits 2 by F. Paul Pacult
I have a pretty good palate and an okay memory, so I feel comfortable with my own assessment of the spirits I carry behind my bar. Paul Pacult has a mind-numbingly brilliant palate and is a terrific, no-nonsense writer. So rather than rely solely on my own take on the brands I choose to stock, I also keep a copy of Kindred Spirits 2 behind the bar at all times. It’s an essential reference to the vast sea of flavors we’re confronted with every day.
Any bar serious about spirits has this book somewhere in the building. Grab a copy here and do the same.
4. Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century by Paul Harrington
This is the book that I had at my side for years as I taught myself to make cocktails the right way. Paul’s attitude toward the craft is opinionated and brilliant. I think about the words in this book nearly every night I’m behind the bar.
Sadly, this one’s out of print, so plan on spending a pretty large sum if you want to buy one of your own – but it’s worth it. If you do stumble across a copy in a used bookstore or garage sale, grab it without hesitation.
5. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
This book is subtitled The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and chapter nine is the most in-depth, scientific analysis of the production of alcohol you’re going to find anywhere. Read it once, slowly, and then give yourself some time to digest. It’s a heavy read but worth the workout.
He’s not as fun as Alton Brown, but he may have taught the man everything he knows. Pick up your own copy here.
6. Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh
This book is the bible of cocktail archaeology, which has inspired a new generation of cocktail enthusiasts – just look at the vast proliferation of cocktail blogs for proof.
I’ll pick this one up from time to time, turn to a random page, and whip up one of whichever I find. I’ve never been disappointed yet. You can pick up a copy here.
7. The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock
The problem with huge drink encyclopedias is that they often contain recipes of questionable origin and proportions. This book is no different in that regard, yet it still remains the quintessential reference on Prohibition-era drinking. I often absentmindedly turn to it first.
Buy The Savoy Cocktail Book here, and then follow along here as Erik Ellestad makes every single drink in the book and reports back with a write-up complete with photo. Amazing.
8. A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage
Once again, you can’t begin to understand where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Not content to be a mere history of beverages, this book is truly a history of human civilization as seen through beer, wine, coffee, tea, spirits, and Coca-Cola.
I find myself having to buy this one from time to time, as it seems to be the first books I want to loan out. Get yourself a loaner here.
9. Straight Up or On The Rocks by William Grimes
New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes understands something a lot of people take for granted: the cocktail, like jazz music or mass production, is one of America’s greatest contributions to the world. Follow along as he details why this is, and provides additional commentary to augment the experience.
The good news is that a book this good is fairly inexpensive and plentiful. Pick up a copy here.
10. What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
Sometimes consuming alcohol is something done alone at an airport bar, a necessary drug dose taken before a bumpy ride. But when alcohol shows its true beauty is when it is enjoyed with good food. This book not only helps take some of the mystery out of pairing alcohol with food, it also helps open the door to approaching booze from a more culinary perspective.
This one came out just last year, so it still runs a little steep. Pick up a copy here, or just add it to your Wish List and hope that someone takes notice this season.
I’m sure you’ve seen some glaring omissions on this list, so feel free to leave your bartender book recommendations in the comments below.