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The Essential Bartender's Guide Spiral-bound – September 15, 2008
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The original photography is beautiful and vintage visuals seem to be fairly carefully selected.
PRACTICAL: It is easy to read. Many bar guides' typeface is too small to easily read when actually mixing a cocktail. Also, this book is spiral bound within a glossy and protective hard cover slightly larger than the page size so as to reduce the chances of the pages warping from the moisture that abounds with cocktail-making (e.g., spilled splashes of spirits or bitters, ice, condensation on chilled glasses and shakers, etc.).
It's possible that there's no other recent cocktail guide crafted with such deliberateness.
Learn how to correctly make a Old Fashioned, Rob Roy, Manhattan, Martini, etc...
Forget the apps, pick up this book and learn how to make a great tasting drink for your friends! It is a good read, a wonderful looking book to keep alongside your spirits or in the kitchen and will definitely make you a better bartender, even if you are only making drinks for yourself.
As other reviewers have said, this is not the book you want to pick up if you're looking to be able to make any drink in the world someone might ask for. However, in my opinion, that's what the internet is for- if you want a manageable collection of good, balanced cocktails that have stood the test of time, though, this is your book. I largely trust Hess's recipes, and as a bonus you can watch him prepare a number of them on his Small Screen Network videos.
Aside from, of course, the recipes, the book has a brief history of the cocktail, summary of drink types, overview of barware and tools, and introduction to the basic spirits, liqueurs and mixers. These sections offer very good general coverage of the subjects, and include some basic bartending tips (like using a boston shaker). I personally think these sections could be a bit more detailed, but I understand the constraints of page limits etc. This is controversial, but I wouldn't mind seeing a brief summary of recommended brands for starting out (which he does have on his site as well, and of course available brands change over time) or even better, a guide for picking out brands yourself. (For example- which type of rum one should buy as a beginner; brands of liqueurs that are of acceptable quality (since as we all know, many of the lower end ones are riddled with caramel colors, "natural" flavors and other additives)). However, the book is definitely a good introduction to spirits and liqueurs as well as basic drink mixing techniques.
The cons- For one, there are a number of typos and a few formatting errors.
Page space is precious and a number of the images that were included are historic menus, advertisements or posters, and old photos, and of those only the menus convey information (since they list ingredients and include some of the drinks in the book)- the vintage ads just add tone and kitsch and I think should have been replaced by more beautiful drink photography, which is both attractive, and helpful. I would have paid a few extra dollars for an extra drink photo every other page or so- it's very helpful to see photographs especially of the less-common drinks- many of the photos are of better-known drinks.
I also wish he would be a little more explanatory in the remarks for each recipe in some cases- some do include great background information. Some of the recipes are very similar, and I would be interested in a brief blurb explaining why he chose to include both; if one is better in certain situations, etc etc. The tips and anecdotes that he did include really pique my interest in some of the cocktails- again, often the lesser-known ones.
Final gripe, and this is definitely nitpicky- he points out more than once that a "splash" should not be used as a measure since it's imprecise, but then uses a "dash" in a large number of recipes. Sure, a dash of bitters makes sense, but a dash of Maraschino is harder to estimate. In the conversions table, he lists a dash as "1/70th of an ounce (approximate)" which is amusing but impossible to estimate; I personally think that saying "a few drops" or something of the sort would have been a lot more explanatory. There are a couple recipes where the majority of the ingredients are called for in "dashes" which feels imprecise to me and can really change the balance of the cocktail if not estimated correctly.
All in all, I think this review sounds a little more critical than I really am- this is a fantastic introduction and overview, and contains a great set of recipes that I think are perfect for starting out if you're interested in good quality craft cocktails. As others have mentioned (this is one of the reasons I bought this book sight unseen in the first place), the spiral binding is great for mixing since the book lays flat on the bar or stands open easily. There's a convenient index as well if you're looking to make a drink with a particular spirit you have on hand.
Most recent customer reviews
on history of cocktails. Bought because I love Robert
Hess's YouTube videos !