As a mentor of mine said, the problem with bartending books today is that many of them are created by opportunists. Cocktails are trendy and authors want to make a profit. We certainly respect the profit motive, but as professionals we want to read something with substance.
At the Nimble Bar Co., we’ve combed through an untold number of bartending books in search of excellence, and we’re happy to say we’ve found the best and most well-rounded bartending book to start your collection of educational books.
Meehan’s Bartender Manual
Whether you’re a bartender who’s just getting started, an at-home enthusiast, or a full-fledged bar consultant, this book will be your trusty steed on the dusty, bandit-ridden trails of cocktail mixing.
Best known for creating the PDT bar in New York City (you know, the one you enter through a phone booth in a hot-dog stand), Jim Meehan is now primarily an author, speaker, and consultant on all things bar and cocktail-related. He’s an industry veteran who’s been successful in many areas, so it makes sense that he would write a great bartending book!
Check out this video for a taste of his wisdom and reason:
What this bartending book will teach you
The industry at large
First, the book teaches you the service and spirits industry from the macro, 30,000ft level. Bartenders often focus on recipes, operations, and technique to the exclusion of the greater industry. But if you understand the industry at large, you can make better business decisions.
For example, If you’re an industry-insider that understands the business incentives of local distillers, you might be able to cook up some cool partnerships. Meehan’s Bartending Manual will get you thinking along those lines.
Understanding the industry is kind of like bartending and mixing with your head up, rather than mixing with your head buried in your tin and ice-well.
Cocktails In 4D
Yes, the book contains recipes. But the drink recipes in Meehan’s do more than tell you what to mix. You’ll learn where the cocktails come from, the logic behind them, how to make them optimally, and where they fit in the overall cocktail lexicon. This type of extensive knowledge aids in your menu development, drink selection, and customer-facing expertise.
And Meehan isn’t dogmatic. You’ll learn essential recipes, but you’ll also learn when to go your own way — Meehan includes lots of little ‘hacks’ you can use to improve the drinks.
Meehan’s highlights many of the amazing people who make up our industry. Bartending isn’t just an in-between job, and the public is recognizing it more and more as a respectable career. This book reinforces our industry’s professionalism through showcasing bartenders and operators who are actually really fucking smart and chock full of wisdom.
And many of the leaders Meehan profiles are very accessible. With a well-phrased email, you could probably strike up a conversation and find even more guidance.
[Sidebar: If you want more guidance than can be gleaned from a single email or phone call, think of a way to add value to the relationship — maybe offer your time.]
Bar Design & Interior Inspiration
Is your workspace intuitive? Is your floor plan unique? Do they inspire you and your customers? Are they pleasing to the eye?
Good floor plan and interior design appeals to our emotions and delights us. It inspires our customers and enhances their experience. Meehan’s will inspire you to enhance your design game and give you some tips on where to start.
The book highlights a number of bar and restaurant floor plans that work well and might work for you, too. Through these examples, Meehan helps bartenders and bar consultants understand good design.
“You can not understand good design if you don’t understand people: design is made for people.” — Dieter Rams
How to execute a cocktail ‘chit’
Bartenders have a stereotype: the extroverted alpha-type character that’s always the life of the party. But many would never guess the essential ingredients that make a great bartender: sound mental models and effective systems. If you’ve been around the industry long enough, you know what it’s like to watch a skilled, attentive, and personable bartenders flawlessly execute their orders. This bartending book gives a good sense of how to do it.
In his book, Meehan teaches his readers to break down a complicated chit and teaches a greater lesson in the process: a lot of the work results from the systems we create for ourselves.
A great example: when building a cocktail, we start by building the drink with the smallest and cheapest ingredients first so that we don’t compromise the more expensive ingredients if we put in too much. This means bitters and syrups first, and our main spirits last.
Meehan takes 50ish pages to essentially reverse-engineer a bar’s layout and functionality. And he does it all through the framework of effectively managing a chit.
My favourite line: “In some countries, shaking two drinks at once is frowned on, but wherever time is a constraint, efficiency trumps tradition.”
So buy the book already!
Reprinted with permission from Meehan’s Bartender Manual, by Jim Meehan, copyright © 2017 by Mixography Inc. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Photographs copyright © 2017 by Doron Gild
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Gianmarco Magnani