Book Review: Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book Elements of Cocktail Technique 

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is known to be the laziest (he’s said it several times himself) most efficient perfectionist bartender. He is one of the most influential bartenders and helped to revolutionize the bar industry by bringing barrel aged cocktails and bottled cocktails to the masses and reviving such dead drinks as the  Amaretto sour. In addition he manages the successful and three times James Beard nominated Clyde Common as well as the relatively new Pépé Le Moko.

The Good
Many of the cocktail books that have been released in recently have either delved into the history of drinking or have focused almost exclusively on recipes. While recipes are important if you don’t know the basics of simple cocktail constructions and technique you will never be able to do more than copy those who have come before instead of truly being an innovator.

This book unlike any other in recent memory truly lays a fine foundation for learning the techniques behind expert cocktail instruction. It’s divided up into chapters covering topics like: citrus, syrups, infusions, measuring, garnishes, selecting bar tools, and a host of other informative chapters. He goes into detail about the best technique for maximizing citrus juice yield (p25), making your own tonic water (p58) picking the right sugar (p75), and creating herb syrup without it turning sickly brown (p94).

He is a lively and engaging writer who tackles even the most mundane of topics (measurements) in an interesting and insightful way. The writing is clear and concise with the directions easy to follow and is laid out in an easy to read format with plenty of pictures demonstrating various techniques.

The Critique
If you have followed his blog many of the topics he covers there are mentioned in the book so there is some overlap. But my main issue is with some of the pictures in the books. For those who hate serious home cooks or bartenders we may know exactly what a particular fruit or other item looks like. For others being able to differentiate a key lime from a pink lemon from a Persian lime (regular limes) might prove to be quite difficult.  For example, on page 26 there is a picture of a group of citrus and on page 27 there is a description of various citrus items but unless you know exactly what each item looks like the picture is meaningless. This is compounded by the fact that certain citrus items, like the Buddhas hand, is not even in the picture. There are other examples like on page 72 with a group of sugars or page 125 with a group of chilies, herbs, and spices. By simply adding a little number next to each item in the picture and then a corresponding number next to the description would have gone a long way into having the pictures be even more meaningful.

The Bottom Line
There are some minor hiccups but I will go ahead and simply state that Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Bar Book is one of the most essential cocktail books to come out in recent memory. If you want to make great cocktails at home, take it to the next level, or even if your behind the stick and want to improve your technique then this is the book for you.


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