Book Review: The Bar Book

I have a lot of cocktail books. I don’t think I’ve ever said any of them are a must read. But The Bar Book: Elements of the Cocktail Technique by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, is a must read for anyone interested in learning how to make cocktails.

If you follow the American cocktail scene you’ve no doubt heard of Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s triumphs. His blog is followed by tens of thousands. He’s the bar manager of the insanely popular Portland Euro tavern, Clyde Commons. And in 2009, he also helped popularize barrel aged cocktails in the United States.

Months before The Bar Book was released I read an interview where Morgenthaler essentially said there are tons of great volumes on cocktail recipes but few that describe in detail, how to make cocktails properly. So he set out to do just that. And he did a damn fine job!

Morgenthaler starts out: “When I train bartenders, I begin by teaching them one basic rule, and here it is. There are three things, of equal importance, that make a great cocktail. And unless all three are given their due respect, the drink you make isn’t going to reach its full potential.” He goes on to say those three things are recipe, ingredients, and technique. The Bar Book focuses on the technique.

If you’re new to cocktails you might be thinking, “Technique, what’s the big deal with technique? You stir, you shake. It looks easy.” But therein lies the potential problem. Making cocktails properly is harder than it looks and like he mentions, if one of three things is missing, then your drink isn’t going to be as good as it could.

This book has no chapters on alcohol. Say what? A cocktail book with no chapters on alcohol. That’s right. Morgenthaler organizes his book way a cocktail is made: prep, combine the ingredients, finish the drink, and serve.

If it sounds basic than you might be someone who would benefit from reading his suggestions. With chapters on juices, syrups, eggs, ice, mixing, and garnishing (among others) this book is incredibly practical. My guess is almost anyone will learn from Morgenthaler's writing, from the cocktail newbie to someone with advanced knowledge of the trade.

It should also be pointed out the photographs are awesome. Nice work Alanna Hale. And I’m jealous of all the vintage bar tools that litter the pages.