If you're looking for a great cocktail book that's simultaneously entertaining and wonky and has plenty of expert tips, pick up "The Bar Book: Elements of Bar Technique," written by Jeffrey Morgenthaler with Martha Holmberg and published this summer by Chronicle.
Morgenthaler -- the affable bar manager at Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., who catapulted the barrel-aged cocktail trend and writes about drinks on his blog and for other publications -- covers a lot of ground, getting geeky about such topics as ice, infusions, shaking and even storing garnishes. But he's also really entertaining, as anyone who has read his articles or watched his instructional videos would expect.
Of his first bartending gig, he says: "Little did I know the job would grow on me, and that I would begin to grow on those people who thought I was the worst bartender ever."
The book straddles the basic and the in-depth, and is useful and interesting for dilettantes and professionals alike. Morgenthaler notes that he has organized the book the way he builds his cocktails.
"There are no chapters on vodka – in fact there are no chapters on alcohol at all. Instead, we have broken down the cocktail-making process as you would do it behind the bar," he said.
First there's preparing juices, syrups, bitters and ice. Chapters that make up the first two-thirds of the book include: Citrus Juice; Other Juices; Sodas & Mixers; Simple Syrups; Compound Syrups; Infusions, Tinctures & Bitters; Dairy & Eggs, and Ice. The rest of the book tells you how to properly measure and mix, and then how the drink is finished and served.
Each chapter contains useful information (on various citrus profiles, say), how-tos (for choosing sugars), step-by-step instructions (on making fruit syrups, oleo saccharum or ginger beer), charts (how long juices will stay fresh), histories (such as of carbonation) and recipes.
Recipes are interspersed throughout the book, meant as practical applications of lessons learned. The teach-a-man-to-fish-and-then-how-to-cook-it approach. A discussion of cream is followed by a recipe for the Alexander Cocktail, made with London dry gin, dark creme de cacao and half and half. Know how to prepare your own orange bitters, then make a Revolver.
There are countless tips: how to properly unseal a Boston shaker, how to make ice for your punch bowl using a Bundt pan as a mold, how to juice a pomegranate, how to crush ice.
You'll be inspired to make strawberry-infused tequila, prepare pineapple syrup, carve your own ice spheres, blend pina coladas and shake up perfect Sidecars.