Where did you get your degree in mixology?
I get asked that question more often than is comfortable. There are no universities that I know of that offer a BA in Mixology. The French Culinary Institute has done a lot of “cocktail” research (more than you could ever imagine is possible or necessary), and even though they use a lot of graduated cylinders in their lab you cannot actually graduate with this degree. Everyone that I know that has a career where their job title actually ends in “ologist” studied for many years and has done dissertations and research to prove themselves in their field. My actual education consists of dropping out of music school at UNT, dropping out of mechanic school at TCC, and finishing a few semesters of basics at TCC a few years later. Even my bartending resume prior to opening The Usual would, on paper, look suspect if you were considering someone for a position to create a menu for and run a cocktail bar. If knowledge is power then I can’t claim to be a superhero.
I don’t mean to play completely dumb. I’ve obviously learned at least enough about what I do to have received a number of accolades and be able run a successful business based around a specific scope of knowledge. Hell…I even have a blog now. How did I go about acquiring this knowledge though? Just like everyone else that does what I do: I scour the internet looking at blogs and trends, talk to other people in the business and exchange ideas, and most importantly, I read a lot of books. This post features some of the books, blogs, and websites that I have found to be valuable over the years. I hope that if anyone has an interest in making great drinks that they will find these resources handy.
“The Joy of Mixology,” by Gary Regan
This is the book that I recommend for anyone who is just starting out. It gives a succinct outline of the history of cocktails, explains how to properly execute all of the basic techniques that bartenders employ, and presents the idea of a cocktail recipe being a template and not just a fixed formula scribbled on a piece of paper. If you buy just one book, buy this one. It’s available on Amazon.
“The Bar Book,” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler
This is the second book you should buy. It’s almost an update version of “Joy of Mixology”. It delves further into how and why we apply techniques and involves some more current and inventive methods. This bartender’s blog is also a treasure trove of information that includes drinks recipes, instructions on barrel aging cocktails, recipes for house made ginger beer and syrups, and a lot more. You can find it at www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com.
The “Drinks” tab on the Esquire website
This is a great collection of recipes curated by writer and preeminent cocktail historian Dave Wondrich. The recipes are numerous, historically accurate, and most of them involve a short rundown on the history and evolution of each cocktail. I use this section of the Esquire site as a reference more often than I would like to admit. If you’re feeling frisky after checking out this link, Mr. Wondrich also has two books available entitled “Drink” and “Punch.” Both deal with the history and evolution of mixing up a good drink.
This blog, maintained by Camper English, is for the seriously nerdy at heart. I really can’t find a way to reiterate my last sentence enough. One of the current posts is titled “99 Items I Packed to Give a Cocktail Seminar,” and the sidebar has a link to an article about Campari fruit roll ups. Don’t forget about the list (with pictures included) of airline drink menus from all over the world. Whether your looking for a review of a Tinder-optimized origami cocktail menu at a bar in San Francisco (that’s a real thing) or debate on the techniques used to make a perfectly clear block of ice, this site will fulfill all of your fetish porn-esque internet cocktail desires.
This site was started by the magnanimous dorkball that is Kevin Gray. I’ve listened to a number of people geek out about booze before, but Kevin takes the cake. He’s a treasure trove of knowledge and perspective on distilled spirits the likes of which you will rarely run across. Cocktail Enthusiast is one of the greatest ways of keep abreast of the newest products that are hitting the market. You won’t find reviews about the latest off brand pop tart flavored vodka of the month, but rather a good perspective on bottlings that are credible and worth taking a look at.
There’s a lot of information out there and if your interested in going further down the rabbit hole, feel free to start clicking on links and reading the books that are referenced in the bibliographies of the works that strike a chord with you. Whether you’re a hobbyist who wants to know more or you’re in the industry and looking to further yourself professionally all of these sources are a great place to start. At the very least, a quest to gain more knowledge about drinking is a great way to justify an awesome trip to the liquor store. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the first to graduate with a full-fledged degree in mixology.