For the first real installment in this series on getting started with home (or wherever) bartending we’ll dive into books. Not because you need any, or because they are critical, but because I think many can lead you astray, or even turn you off to playing with your drinks.
This “internet” thing can be pretty handy if you just want a few drink recipes without building your own library of dead trees. Your search engine of choice should lead you to plenty of sites to help you on your quest. I tend to gravitate towards Esquire’s Drinks Database when searching online, but with the whole Internet at your fingertips don’t limit yourself to my choices. I do find that a reduced range can be helpful when you are beginning; faced with seven different Sazerac recipes you could be forgiven for giving up and just grabbing a beer. A book or two can help here, plus you can make your own notes to add context and preferences as you explore your tastes.
Unfortunately, even some of the best recipe books can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling inadequate for not knowing what the hell a “Nick and Nora” glass is and why your life is incomplete without a set of them. This is nonsense, your life may be incomplete, but it isn’t because you lack certain six-ounce martini glasses in your cupboards. Too many books dive right into long lists of spirits, glassware, mixers, equipment, bitters, and more. If you plan on serving discerning cocktail snobs, or plan on bartending for a living, you’ll eventually need to master some of that stuff, but for now just make some drinks with stuff you have on hand. OK, maybe a quick trip to the liquor store and/or grocery store will be needed, but you do not need $500 worth of tools, $3000 worth of liquor, nor do you need $1000 worth of specialty glassware. Some of the best drinks ever consumed were served in red plastic Solo® cups, and you know it. Don’t get me wrong, a few “old fashioned-like” glasses, and some kind of generic “wine” glasses are a big improvement on the ubiquitous plastic, but start with what’s handy. Very few books will be that candid with you. You hereby have my permission to skip or ignore large sections of booze books until you want to up your game after deciding you are having fun with your cocktail experiments and want to advance your craft.
Now that we have that out of the way, some practical book suggestions. First suggestion: whatever books you already have, just apply the above advice. Even if you have one of those books designed to push one brand of liquor, you can substitute what you have, or what you think might work.
In my next post I’ll share some of my favorite books and make a few recommendations.