Monday, July 7, 2014

The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is one of the stars of the modern mixology movement.  An Oregon bartender, Morgenthaler is the man responsible for multiple mixology trends, including barrel aged cocktails, carbonated cocktails and homemade tonic water.  He became known through his excellent, eponymous blog, a blog so good it still seems to win awards even though he only posts a few times a year (he put up exactly two posts in 2013).   It turns out, though, that he wasn't slacking off on his writing, he just decided it made more sense to get paid for it (clearly, the guy is smarter than a lot of us), and the result is The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.

Unlike most bar books, this is not a cocktail recipe book, though there are some recipes.  As the subtitle makes clear, it's a book about technique, including measuring, muddling, shaking and stirring, but it covers non-alcoholic ingredients (soda, juice, cream and eggs), bar tools and garnishes.

An impressively detailed and very eye catching tome with a crisp layout and beautiful photography, The Bar Book is chock full of information and thick with detail.  If you want to know the best way to store simple syrup, how to make ginger beer, the best way to thicken cream for an Irish coffee or what to look for in a bar spoon, this is the book for you.  It's crammed with useful information on pretty much everything you need to know to make great drinks. Morganthaler even does some myth busting, including an experiment which finds that refrigerating citrus doesn't decrease juice production, and rolling the fruit on the table doesn't increase it.

Some of the information seems more geared toward professionals.  Even the most dedicated home bartender is unlikely to need to know how to break down a 300 pound block of ice, but it is sort of fun to consider the possibility.  Overall, Morgenthaler does a good job of writing for both professionals and exuberant hobbyists, and it's organized in a way that makes it easy to skip over sections that aren't relevant to your needs.

While he sometimes seems to be writing for pros, Morgenthaler occasionally goes too far in the other direction with details that seem over the top even for a novice home bartender.  I'm pretty sure most of us know to store dairy products in the refrigerator, and does someone who can't figure out how to use a lemon juicer or crack an egg without instructions really have any business making drinks at all?  Those are minor transgressions, though, and in most cases, I'm glad he erred on the side of detail.

The Bar Book is well designed, easy to use, fun to read and extremely informative. It will immediately take its place as a major work in the field, and anyone interested in making cocktails should own a copy.

The Bar Book ($20.00)
by Jeffrey Morgenthaler
Chronicle Books


Sam Komlenic said...

Sounds right up my alley. I'm not so interested in drink recipes that use exotic ingredients, but for someone who makes his own hand-cracked ice from distilled water frozen in two-liter soda bottles (me), there is definitely a right way to do it. (Let it thaw for at least 1/2 hour before cutting the jug open and taking an ice pick to it, otherwise you just get bits)

I'm in. thanks for the recommendation, Sku!

Harry said...

After thinking about buying this, I read LOTS of reviews. Almost passed. Glad I didn't. I've been drinking legally for over 50 years. Although I've never worked tending a bar, I did spend a few months in the kitchen of one while I was in grad school, and I enjoy a good cocktail. I love this book. Like a good cooking techniques book or a good shop manual for a car, this book gives me several levels of instructions - here's cheating, here's DYI, here's fine art. I get to choose. I bought the Kindle Fire version - color pictures and all. It is a great addition to the dozen or so cocktail books I own. Thanks, Steve, for pointing it out.