Bartending Lore: A Reading List

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All right, I'll give you that my last post was more than a bit sarcastic. The truth is that I meet more great bartenders than the lazy, rude, and ignorant kind. But I'm always most impressed by the curious ones, who seem to find niches within niches. They are brimming with passion, excited by the tools, ingredients, and lore of our profession.

Take for instance Darren West, formerly of the Bellagio and now at J&G Steakhouse in Las Vegas. When I sat down and asked for a drink, he started by handing me a glass of fresh-squeezed juice from a calamansi, a somewhat obscure Filipino fruit that is best described as somewhere between a lime and orange. His excitement at his discovery was palpable, and that added to the adventure of trying something new.

So how do you join the ranks of these bartenders? Well, you can't—not if you aren't curious and passionate already. These traits just aren't something you can teach. But if you are curious, passionate, and looking for a spark, then I have a few books that have served me well. Now these aren't recipe books; that's a different post all together. These are full of the stuff that makes up our profession, and recipes are just a small part of it.

Prohibition Hangover, by Garrett Peck
If Garrett Peck were behind a bar, he'd be the kind of bartender you could trust to settle a bet on historical facts. He's a walking, talking Wikipedia when it comes to all things related to the history and aftermath of the Noble Experiment. If you haven't read through his book on what came after Prohibition, you're due for a trip to Amazon.

Uncorking the Past, by Patrick E. McGovern
Patrick McGovern is the most exciting writer on the prehistory of alcohol. Because of McGovern, I know there are large pockets of ethanol at the center of the universe and that Malaysian tree shrews get often ripped and jump from tree to tree. That's just the tip of the iceberg; this book is a tour through mankind's quest for booze.

Imbibe!, by David Wondrich
David Wondrich is nothing short of the chief researcher for the cocktail movement. Imbibe! is about the first bartender to write a bar manual: "Professor" Jerry Thomas, and the book delves into the complete history of bartending in America. This is not only an amazing book for lore and recipes, but puts pre-prohibition bartending within the context of its time.

Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany, by Ben Schott
Schott's Miscellany is filled with unusual facts, brief stories, and other tidbits about food and drink. While lacking the overall narrative of the others, it's the more accessible book of booze. I used to keep a copy under the bar for quick reference. Best consumed with a drink in hand.

Presented by

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.

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