professor jerry thomas

Bar Knowledge: 5 Essential books for cocktail enthusiasts and passionate bartenders.

We are living in a great age, the internet is flooded with information and you no longer need to visit your local library, and shuffle through dusty books to acquire the knowledge you’re looking for. It’s crazy just to think that most of the people in developed countries hold an unlimited source of knowledge in their pockets, but only use it to catch pokemon or watch other people fuck.

There are courses for bartenders, and sure, you can learn some practical basics, but the best way to learn is through a bartending job, direct experience. And what about the history? University degrees in Mixology and Cocktail History don’t exist. If you are passionate about this craft you have to dig for it yourself!

Lucky for us there are plenty of great books on the market that go above and beyond to teach and inspire the younger generation of bartenders. I have written out a list of books, that in my opinion are essential, and a must read for any devoted mixologist.

NOTE: I have reviewed the books in order based on their difficulty/knowledge level. I suggest reading them in this order. First basics, than rapid Nitrous infusions and clarification with agar.

1. THE BAR BOOK by Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
The bar book is where we start. Infact I believe to maintain a certain standard of quality across the globe, every barman should read the Bar Book. Focused on techniques only, this book teaches you how to make syrups, infusions, tinctures, how ice is formed, how to use dairy/ eggs in cocktails, different measuring formats, stirring, shaking and everything in between. Jeffrey Morgenthaler is a great guy and a funny one at that. You can find him on youtube (smallscreennetwork) telling funny bar stories and showing you how it’s all done. This book is a perfect example of his laid back personality. When I was reading, it felt like my friend was teaching me the ways. 

2. THE JOY OF MIXOLOGY by Gary Regan.
One of the first cocktail books I have read and still one of the best. The joy of mixology is a great read and an “all around” cocktail book. It is more or less segregated into three parts. The first part covers the history of the cocktail and drinking culture, starting from the earliest pre-prohibition days to the modern era. The second part goes into the techniques and how to implement them into your work. The third and final part is the recipes themselves. Gary Regan made sure to include the most important cocktails, and even with some recipes he writes out the history behind it. But the most important thing to learn from this book is categories. It will teach you how to categorize cocktails based on their ingredients. This will help you understand the structure behind a cocktail and will also aid you in the future when you want to invent your own.

3. IMBIBE by David Wondrich.
Time to brush up on your history! David Wondrich is the most respected writer and considered a historian in the cocktail world, and Imbibe is his most famous book yet. This book pays homage to the godfather of mixology Professor Jerry Thomas, it tells you a story of his life as well as his recipes. Imbibe is a great read that focuses on the early days of the culture. Recipes and history of punches, daisies, slings, crustas, cobblers and more old-school cocktails fill the pages and are a joy to study by any cocktail geek. Imbibe is a must read.

Now we know the techniques, categories, and history, it is time to learn about the origins. You see the bottles behind your bar? This book opens your eyes and makes you realise how much work goes into each bottle before it is placed on that shelf. Written by a botanist this book is all about the plants. It will take you on an adventure where you explore how the distillation process works, how malt starch is converted into sugar and in turn eaten up by yeast to release alcohol and co2, how oak barrels flavour aged spirits, where agave plants grown and how they are harvested, and much more. After finishing The Drunken Botanist, not only will you appreciate each spirit more and look at it in a different light, but you will also feel confident when surrounded by all that spirit, because you will know exactly how, and from what it was made.

Are you ready for the next level? Now that you know your techniques, categories, history and origin of each spirit , it is time to move on to some serious stuff. Dave Arnold being the obsessed perfectionist he is in the field doesn’t disappoint with this book. A heavy read filled with tons of information, but if you’re up for getting into the chemical details and are willing to start some fascinating experiments at home or your bar, this is deffinitely for you! Rapid infusions with ISI, bottling drinks and carbonation, fat washing, egg washing, milk washing, clarification, vacuum seals. Geek-gasm!

Extra: There are so many more books around that I would love to add to the list, but I had to narrow it down. From Jim Meehans PDT, to the infamous Savoy Cocktail book. A whole book on bitters, or a whole book on one specific spirit itself. Do your research and have fun!

If you enjoyed this article share it with people and hit that like button! Also if you have any questions or want to share your thoughts please comment below. - UM. Thanks guys!