Those That Serve Them


(first published in 2012)

Ask any bartender worth his salt and they will have a favourite bar book. It might be The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (Dick Bradsell), the Savoy Cocktail Book (Paul Martin) or the Waldorf Astoria Bar Book (Paul Harrington). I myself am a fan of the 1971 Playboy Host and Bar book – but the less said about that the better. Books are knowledge and knowledge is power and be you professional or home bartender a reference manual is paramount for mixology. 

I was brought up to have a healthy respect for books and the written word. From childhood with author father to student life at Oxford I have relied on, and been entranced by, books. “You can never learn less” was drummed into me early and I see books as the physical proof of that. As I moved more into bars and out of libraries my only reading was the labels on bottles and trashy novels early in the morning when you can’t sleep. Yes I had Mr Boston’s and the Bartenders Bible but who didn’t? It was when I was interviewing Dale deGroff in 1998 and he showed me his office and some of his ‘Library’ that I caught the bug again and realised my two passions of drinks and books did mix perfectly…

Not many of you may know but I have been given the dubious title of “walking drinks encyclopaedia” by several people in my time  and it is a title I take some pride in, however undeserved it is. Part of it is due to my constant reading of books about cocktails and I thought I might take this short opportunity to talk about the role of literature and the writer in both teaching and inspiring me in what I, and what you dear reader, do.

When I started bartending over 23 years ago the job was significantly simpler to be honest and the books I could buy and read on the subject reflected that. There was no interest in the ‘old ways’ and so all the vintage books that are now so highly prized where unknown to all but the historically minded. And with so few products and cocktails available or being popular it was easier to seem an expert. But our industry has exploded and the amount of knowledge, cocktails, trends and tips that we need has grown to match.

My library has grown accordingly in that time to include now nearly 800 books. From the ancient texts like Harry Johnson and O.H. Byron to cutting edge e-books from hip cool bars in foreign cities. From obscure and technical tomes on distillation to ‘civilian’ books like the History of the Pineapple my shelves and mind groan with the mass of literature and information.

 We now have recipe books (both general and also bar specific as bartenders have become the new chefs and got published), technique books to teach about new-fangled ways, we have memoirs and advice for the novice mixer and we have books packed to the end-pages with product and brand information. So what books do I think every Modern Professional Bartender should, as my old history teacher used to  say “read, mark , learn and inwardly digest”?

  1. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (David Embury): the most academic and intellectual book about the mechanics of creating cocktails written by an American lawyer no less. His detachment from the industry gives perspective. Considered by many to be the greatest classic text this book was very much the first time that drinks mixing was seen as a topic that merited intellectual thought and investigation leading to theory as well as practice. He looked at how his drinks were mixed and why they tasted as they did and then projected his learnings into his own shaker.
  2. The Gentleman’s Companion (Charles Baker): filled not just with great recipes obtained by CHB in his travels but also written with humour and style that makes the experiences of the drinks come to life. It is eloquent and knowledgeably written and brings out the joie de vivre and style of drinking cocktails (on a side note this is the book that everyone says I should try and copy as I am a modern day Baker)
  3. The Joy of Mixology (Gary Regan): one of the Gurus of today wrote a simple yet comprehensive book about both technique but also philosophy of bartending and service. Best described as reviewed on Amazon as “That rare, highly distinguished, distinctive and classical product that represents a benchmark within its category. A standard against which its peers can be measured. A product of extraordinary quality, scope and character which transcends price”
  4. Difford’s Guide (Simon Difford): the recipe book to end all recipe books that is updated every year and so stays current and fashionable yet with Classics aplenty. Simon Difford can be seen as the publisher of record for the London Bar Scene and this, his recipe book, is a must have snapshot of that scene.
  5. Imbibe (David Wondrich): aka the ‘Historical Oracle’ this book not only covers a biography of the father of bartending (Jerry Thomas) but also his drinks and other ancient cocktails. Perhaps the most academic of books on the list but it explains why we are all ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and details the first Golden Age of the Bartender (we are now in the Second)
  6.  The Ultimate Bar Book (Andre Domine): a massive tome of a book that looks dull but is perhaps the most comprehensive book for product knowledge I have read for many years. Worth it. And worth reading. And more importantly worth remembering. If I had to choose a single book on this list that  would want my bartenders to learn then this would be it.
  7. The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy (Jim Meehan): not just a great snapshot into the world of the modern American “speakeasy” and bartending renaissance but also to show how good and influential one man/bar can be. Truly aspirational as well as educational.

That’s it. Just seven must read books. Of course there are a huge amount of specialised books on spirits and liqueurs but they will go into far more depth than you will ever need to know and will never use.

And that’s part of the ‘problem’. Books are great for knowledge but bartending is not just about knowledge – it’s about people primarily. Modern Bartenders seem to think that they become ‘better bartenders’ by reading more books but they don’t – they become more educated bartenders but as we all know having your nose stuck in a book often means you miss out on other things.  That’s why I suggest only 7 books and why after you buy them when you finish reading this article you should go out and talk to people, smell the coffee and enjoy life – cos that will make you  a far better bartender than books ever will!

Drinkers Drinks Those That Serve Them

Nicely toasted…

“I drink to your health when I am with you,

I drink to you health when I’m alone,

I drink to your health so often

I’m beginning to worry about my own”

            Those people who know me will know that I have a great passion for drinks, drinking, drinkers and bartending. I freely admit that I like the whole ritual of drinking and bartending: often I think that cocktails are so interesting because they can be  more about the process by which they are made than by the actual ingredients themselves. Also those people who have met me know that I am a slightly ‘pukka’ person with my British tailoring, handkerchiefs etc. Thus hopefully this months topic will be no big surprise. I am attempting to resurrect the ancient ritual of The Toast.

            A toast is defined as “ to call to an admired  person (normally a woman) or object”. How ever a better description is that a toast is a basic form of human expression that can be used for any emotion from love to rage. They can be sentimental, cheesy, cynical, defiant, comic, poetic, long ,short or even one word. What they do very well is mark a drink or drinking occasion. It makes a drink more personalised as well as the experience of drinking it. Some have said that when one toasts something truly special then the glasses should be broken afterwards to ensure they are never toasted with again!

            My interest in toasts however is not to drive up your glassware costs but to help make drinks and drinking more enjoyable to the drinker. A good/funny toast or remark when serving a drink or drink order can surely only help make it more memorable. The toast, tho’ coming after the order can definitely be an upselling tool or good service practice.

            No-one is entirely sure who the first toast was for but the custom of drinking to health permeated the ancient world with mentions in the Odyssey, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Shakespeare. The habit of clinking glasses is said to have come from the need to  make bell-like sounds to ward off evil spirits when drinking – devils being banished by bells . Mostly the act of toasting occurred at organised dinners and the like with imbibers drinking to gods, then rulers then friends/guests and then even absent friends! Toasting became less pragmatic and more social in the 17th century: as one unnamed Englishman said “to drink at table… without drinking to the health of someone special, would be considered drinking on the sly, and as an act of incivility”.

            Toasting became even more pervasive in the 18th century when they solidified their formal aspects (Nelson himself decreed that every day in his officers’ wardroom would have a different toast – Monday “our ships at sea”, Tuesday “our men”, wed “ourselves”, thurs “a bloody war or a sickly season”, Fri. “a willing foe and a sea room”, sat “sweethearts and wives” and finally “absent friends”. But also with this the Toast was used as an opportunity to show some wit and banter: “these were not an excuse for speeches but for wit and wine” as one expert toaster put it.

            More toasts of course led to excessive drinking and in many places the practice was banned or outlawed. Louis XIV forbade the offering of toasts at his court and Massachusetts put into place a law banning the “abominable… and useless ceremony” of drinking to another’s health. One of the major concerns with the Temperance Movement (founded 1517) was to abolish the custom of toasting whish they saw leading to debauchery. Others saw it differently with a toast being described as “ a quality as pleasant as a handshake, as warm as a kiss” by an unnamed Victorian.

            Some toasts are well known to all – especially what is seen as “National” such as “cheers” in the UK and US, Santé in France, Skål in Danish etc. We all surely know “here’s looking at you kid” from Casablanca. Even “here’s mud in your eye” is well known but interestingly it is a shortened version of a longer “ here’s mud in your eye while I look over your lovely sweetheart”… makes more sense now doesn’t it. Many great Toasts of course have already been said and I shall end this article with a selection that I use and find that they work. How do I mean work? Well if you drop them in at the right time they will make the customer feel more like a guest. They will feel more human and the experience more personal. You might want to choose a shorter one for 9.30pm on a Friday but I hope you will find that they make people smile and make you more money. Cheers!

“only the young die good”

“here’s to you… no matter how old you are you don’t look it”

“here’s champagne for our real friends and real pain to our sham friends”

“joy to the world and especially to you”

“may your sex life be as good as your credit”

In English beer/with English cheer/to the right little/tight little island”

“eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet”

“may the hinges of friendship never rust and the wings of love never lose a feather”

“blue skies and green lights”

“may the most you wish for be the least you get”

“may we be happy and our enemies know it”

“may our house be too small to hold all our friends”

“here’s to your health! You make Age curious, Time furious and all of us envious”

“here’s to my car and your car and may they never meet”

“may you be hung drawn and quartered… yes – hung with diamonds, drawn in a coach and for and quartered in the best houses in the land”

and finally when you have served a “nasty” drink or been served one by a bartender:

“may we never drink worse than this”

“I used to know a clever toast,

But doh! I cannot think of it – so fill your glass to anything

And, bless your souls, I’ll drink it”