Most cocktail books bundle up a batch of tried-and-true recipes, and perhaps offer up a couple of pages on the supplies and tools one might need to make the included drinks. "The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique" (Chronicle Books 2014) isn't most books.
Portland bartender, columnist and blogger Jeffrey Morganthaler is the brainy, dedicated yet no-nonsense sort of modern bartender who also happens to be a great storyteller. His blog, jeffreymorgenthaler.com is widely read and admired in the craft cocktail universe. In "Bar Book," he collaborates with food writer Martha Holmberg to pen a cocktail book that isn't about the booze: Recipes aren't categorized by their base spirit. There are no chapters on vodka, gin, tequila or the like. Instead, chapters are dedicated to explaining the best way to store and use juice, compound syrups, dairy, and how to properly build, stir, shake, age and carbonate cocktails.
The architect student-turned-bartender says "I wrote the book because, as I always teach new bartenders, there are three things that make a great cocktail: the recipe, the ingredients you select and the technique you employ. I've seen countless books about the first two, but none about the latter. And I set out to change that."
As in a bar or a finely balanced cocktail, the book is divided into three portions: The first is prep: Getting fresh juices ready, making syrups, etc. The second lays out how to properly build a mixed drink, and the third explores garnishing and service.
There's plenty of bar nerd science, like discussions of the hemicellulose extractions from oak barrels (Morgenthaler is often credited with popularizing and methodically exploring the contemporary trend for barrel-aged cocktails). In Chapter 8, "Ice," the first page covers "How Ice Behaves" and "Why Ice Clarity Matters." The techniques are equally useful to working bartenders and the home enthusiast.
The amateur mixologist can take heart in knowing the text is also chock full of fantastic classic and signature cocktails from behind Morgenthaler's Oregon bar Clyde Common. Each recipe features a brief introduction as to what makes it tick. There are not one, but four variations on the Old Fashioned, including one employing mezcal in place of bourbon or rum.
Enhanced with Morgenthaler's own illustrations and elegant step-by-step photography from Alanna Hale, the book is as carefully balanced between professional resource and aficionado how-to as a fine cocktail book.
"The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique" is available via Amazon.com in both hardcover and Kindle formats.
Thirsty for more? Check out National Spirits Examiner or NY Drinks Examiner.
Do you have a cocktail trend, new product, bar or teahouse you'd like me to review? Want to give me a heads-up on your favorite hot spot? Please email me at NYDrinksExaminer AT gmail.com. Or follow me on Twitter @roberthp.
FTC Disclaimer: The author sometimes receives product samples for review, which carry no cash value and cannot be re-sold, and sometimes attends press events such as lunches or cocktail parties, designed to promote a given product. The author is not paid by any alcohol manufacturer, retailer or distributor, or provided compensation apart from revenue from an assigning publishing company for editorial publication. Opinions are the author's own. By the way, you should be 21 or older to read this page. Author received a review copy of "The Bar Book," but his mancrush on Morganthaler goes back several years now.