What Is Mixology?
By Mixology Events
The Definition of Mixology:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of mixology is:
‘The skill of mixing various drinks and ingredients to create cocktails.’
The keyword here is skill. Like any discipline, mixology requires practice, research, and focus. Mixologists learn how to pair flavours, combine ingredients, and create drinks with precision, consistency, and attention to detail.
The internet abounds with competing definitions of the trade.
A few people over the years have tried to offer up different terms for someone who mixes drinks for a living. Is there a difference between a bartender and a mixologist? Is it that a mixologist is more concerned with the intricate mixing of liquids, making a strict and concentrated effort to ensure a better made drink? Cocktail legend Gary Regan, writing in ‘The Joy of Mixology’, tries to flesh out the definition further:
‘A descriptor of sorts is needed to differentiate bartenders who merely know how to mix standard cocktails from the men and women behind the bar – or behind the stick -, as I prefer – who throughly understand the theory behind mixing ingredients to achieve balance in their drinks and marry flavours successfully. I came up with the word cocktailian in 2001 when I was on a quest to find a word to replace mixology, and although it doesn’t work in that instance, I think that cocktailian bartender fits the bill better than bar chef.’
Whilst the term ‘cocktailian bartender’ hasn’t quite stuck, Regan successfully makes a distinction between a mixologist and a bartender. So, mixology can be defined as the mixing of liquids. When you make a gin and tonic at home, adjusting the amount of tonic or the amount of gin after tasting it first, then perhaps deciding on which garnish to use to match to your gin, you are a mixologist taking part in mixology. Gary Regan goes on to say:
‘Anyone can make a good drink if they put their mind to it. It’s just a case of using the best ingredients in the correct proportions and mixing them according to a prescribed method.’
The Urban dictionary definition of Mixology, meanwhile, is:
‘The term used by employees of bars and night clubs to mask the fact that they are bartenders. It is intended to make the occupation sound more important or part of the sciences.’
Both of these definitions get to the same point, a person who mixes liquids with the outcome being something more than the sum of its parts. The definition of mixology, whether or not you choose to identify as a mixologist or a bartender, is up to you.
HOW TO BECOME A MIXOLOGIST
For those interested in mixology as a profession, it can be hard to know where to start. With so much to learn, and with such a competitive field, trying to find your way into the cocktail industry can be difficult. However, by beginning with a few simple steps you could find your way onto an exciting and diverse career path.
Just like professional cookery, mixology is a disciplined mixture of art and science and, just like top chefs, skilled mixologists can find success and notoriety. But working your way behind some of the best bars in the world can seem like a daunting prospect. Whether you’re a cocktail enthusiast, eager to try your hand at creating world class drinks, or a rookie bartender hoping to make your way up through the industry, there are a range of different avenues you can take towards becoming a professional mixologist.
Here are just a few for starters.
There’s thousands of cocktails and hundreds of different ingredients. Don’t feel like you need to learn them all. Even the worlds best bartenders don’t know how to make every classic cocktail, and mixology isn’t just about memorising recipes. Just like cooking, there are rules and patterns within mixology, and once you start to pick up on these patterns you’ll find that learning cocktails get progressively easier.
START AT HOME:
If you’re keen to try mixing drinks at home you don’t need a fully stocked bar or a shelf packed with cocktail books. With a few simple bits of kit, a bottle or two of your favourite liquor, and a couple of classic recipes, you can start learning to make great cocktails from the comfort of your kitchen. At the very least, you’ll need to invest in a shaker and a few ingredients: there’s a wide range of cocktail starter-kits and tools available at varying prices but you can pick up a fairly inexpensive cocktail shaker anywhere that sells kitchen equipment, that will be fine to start practising with at home. In terms of ingredients, you can find a lot of what you need in your kitchen cupboards and you don’t need to buy top shelf spirits. Mid-range liquors are fine for use in cocktails, and since most classic recipes only call for one spirit and some liqueur, you can do a lot with a few choice bottles. If you’re interested in learning more about home-mixology check out our complete guide here.
START A COURSE:
If you’re really serious about mastering mixology and building your way towards a career in the industry, there a number of mixology courses available at amateur and professional levels.
Our cocktail classes are aimed at beginners, with a focus on fun, and they’re great for teaching you the basics to get you started, to get on board with one of our mixology masterclasses, hit the link here.
For those looking to do more intensive courses, there are various bar-schools offering courses at a range of levels. One of the longest running and most respected bar-schools is The European Bartender School. They are based in London and have a specialised bartending academy offering courses lasting anywhere between a day and four weeks in disciplines ranging from professional mixology and craft cocktails, to coffee-making, and even working flair. Be aware that these sorts of bartending courses can be quite pricey, and whilst they’ll certainly give you leg-up in the industry they aren’t essential for potential mixologists.
START AT THE BOTTOM:
Granted, it may not seem like the most glamorous road to success. However, if you can’t afford to invest in home-bar equipment or a mixology course, or if you’re just eager to get into the industry as soon as possible, like any career the route to the top starts at the bottom. Many of the worlds best bar-tenders started their careers as bar-support. This essentially means collecting glasses, washing equipment, prepping fruit and generally doing all the hard work that keeps the bar running while the mixologists do their thing. If you can find your way into a good bar you’ll find there’s lots of room for growth. Managers are keen to hire people who are eager to learn, and they’ll be more than happy to teach you. You may well find yourself behind the bar, mixing drinks sooner than you thought.
Whether you’ve completed a bartending course or worked your way up through the ranks, you may reach a point where you want to expand your education even further. For those who are really serious about the alcohol industry there’s WSET: the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. This organisation is generally recognised as the world-leader in terms of industry education. They offer a range of courses at different levels and, whilst they mostly concentrate on wine, their spirits courses can teach you everything you need to know about using and producing premium spirits. For those interested in running their own venue or moving into spirit distribution and production, WSET courses are highly regarded within the industry and can give you a big leg-up.
Mixology can be a route into various fields of work, at Mixology Events we are proud to host specialist butler training; over an intensive two-day course we train potential butlers in the fundamentals of cocktail-making, an essential for anyone going in to this highly competitive field. We take them through the basic techniques and theories behind mixology and teach them to make a slew of classic cocktails to a consistently professional standard. We also run bespoke bartender training courses, offering a range of modules from cocktail-making to customer service, from spirit history and production to molecular mixology, these courses are available both to the public and to businesses looking to train their staff. To learn more about our bartender training courses, hit the link here.
If you want to earn notoriety in the cocktail world there’s also a number of competitions and awards available to talented mixologists. Many spirit brands run their own competitions, often offering big prizes as well as a level of prestige. At the top end of the industry are the competitions run by the UKBG: The UK Bartenders Guild and the USBG: the United States Bartenders Guild. Winning one of these competitions will earn you a large cash prize and allow you to work in pretty much any cocktail bar in the world.
Like any skilled job, mixology takes hard work, creativity, and dedication, but for those prepared to put in the effort, the rewards can be great and the industry can be a vibrant and stimulating place to work. Whether you choose to do a bar-course, start practising at home, or get a job at the bottom of the ladder if you have a passion for mixology you can find some exciting opportunities.
MIXOLOGY AT HOME: THE EQUIPMENT
Before you get started with your home mixology you’re going to need some kit to make your cocktails with.
Whilst you might have made some half-decent margaritas in your blender or produced a passable Negroni with an old tumbler and a teaspoon, with the right tools for the job you’ll see an immediate improvement in the quality of your cocktails. So what do you need?
Most home bartenders will start out with an all inclusive kit. These gift sets often include; a shaker, a measure, a strainer, and maybe a bar spoon. They can vary hugely in quality depending how much you’re willing to spend and where you buy from, and kits like these can be a great way to start out. However, with prices ranging from £20 to £200, picking the right kit for you can be a daunting prospect. Whilst they may seem like an easy choice compared to sourcing and buying all your bits separately, it’s important to note that different companies specialise in different pieces of equipment, so you’re not necessarily going to get the best of everything with an all-in-one kit.
Whether you’re buying a complete kit or assembling your own set of bar-ware, you’re going to want some info on the best bits to suit you and the drinks you like making.
The mixologist’s most important tool is their shaker, and there’s a few different types to choose from. So which one is best for you? There are two main types of cocktail shaker; the classic three-piece shaker – sometimes called a cobbler shaker or a Manhattan shaker, and the two-piece Boston shaker – which is generally preferred for professional use.
Cobbler Shakers: When you imagine a cocktail shaker, you’re probably thinking of a cobbler. The classic design features a large metal tumbler, tapered at the bottom, a domed lid with a built-in strainer, and a cap which doubles up as a measure. Whilst this shaker is most-often used for home-bartending, some professional bars do favour them, and they’re particularly popular in Japan. The benefits of a cobbler shaker are its compact size and its built-in features, coming complete with a strainer and measure they make a great option for home bartenders.
They do, however, have their downsides. Depending on the quality of your shaker, the metal can warp and change shape over time meaning you may find trouble separating the halves or even find that your shaker begins to leak. However, provided you buy a fairly good quality shaker and look after it well, it should last you years. The other reason cobbler shakers are used less professionally is their size. Their compact nature makes them great to fit in the cupboard and they can happily produce a couple of cocktails at a time, but they simply don’t have the volume to keep up with the demands of a busy cocktail bar.
Boston Shakers: The preferred shaker of most professional mixologists, a Boston shaker consists of two pieces; a large metal tumbler or ‘tin’, and a second slightly smaller tumbler – often made of toughened glass. The main benefit of a Boston shaker is its size. With nearly double the volume of your average cobbler shaker, Bostons make it easy to produce multiple cocktails at once, drastically lightening the workload of a busy bartender. The Boston glass also means both mixologist and customer can see the ingredients going in to their drink, adding to the theatre of cocktail-making as well as helping to avoid mistakes.
Many bars, however, favour a two-tin Boston shaker. These shakers replace the heavy Boston glass with a slightly smaller second tin. With both halves being made of metal, the drink cools more rapidly and the whole shaker is noticeably lighter. This means that not only can drinks be produced even quicker, but the physical exertion of shaking hundreds of cocktails in a night is also greatly reduced, making for happier bartenders. Boston shakers do not have the built-in measures or strainers of a cobbler, so if you decide to go in this direction you’re going to need some other bits too.
So cobbler shakers have a built in strainer, but what about Bostons? And what if you want a perfectly smooth drink without any ice chips or citrus pulp floating around in it at all? You’re going to need some strainers.
Mixologists tend to use three main types of strainer; Hawthorne strainers, Julep strainers, and fine strainers. A Hawthorne strainer takes its name from the Hawthorne cafe, a bar in Boston, but confusingly was originally patented as a Julep strainer. A classic Julep strainer tends to be a large, perforated, convex disk – about 10cm in diameter – with a short handle. The main difference between Hawthornes and standard Julep strainers is the springy coil that surrounds the edge of a Hawthorne. This spring allows the strainer to comfortably fit in almost any shaker securely. Whilst Hawthorne strainers are generally preferred for most cocktails, many mixologists still favour a Julep strainer for stirred drinks though there’s little practical reason for this, it’s more of an aesthetic choice. The third type of strainer is a fine strainer or tea strainer. This is essentially a small sieve about 6cm or 7cm in diameter, and is used in conjunction with a Hawthorne or julep strainer to filter out smaller ice chips and fruit pulp. Using two strainers in unison is known as double-straining, and is generally employed for drinks which are served straight-up (without ice).
Mixology is as much a science as it is an art, and if you want to produce balanced, consistent cocktails it’s important to measure your ingredients. With cocktail recipes coming from various different eras and locations, there is no standardised unit of measure when it comes to making cocktails.
Whilst in the UK and Europe we use millilitres, you may encounter many American recipes that use fluid ounces, and when delving back in time you’ll start coming across long-forgotten, nonsensical measurements like quarts or even ‘wine-glasses’ (see The Savoy Cocktail Book). The important thing to remember when following cocktail recipes is the ratios. By splitting the ingredients into parts you can produce a balanced and consistent cocktail no matter what unit you use, and to get your parts accurate and regular you’re going to need a measure. In a pinch a standard shot glass will do. A government stamped, UK shot glass is always 25ml, but the novelty shooters you bought in Tenerife or the free plastic ones you got with your bottle of tequila won’t be standardised. Your best option is a cocktail jigger; a metal measure resembling an hourglass, consisting of two coned sides measuring 25ml and 50ml respectively. These Jiggers often include lines up the side that indicate 15ml and 35ml as well. Measures can be really helpful with cocktail recipes, but as long as you’re using the same measure for all your ingredients you should produce a balanced cocktail by following your ratios.
A spoon might seem like a pretty simple bit of kit, and you’d be forgiven for thinking any old spoon will do for making cocktails, but there are actually a range of bar-spoons specifically designed for use in mixology. Bar-spoons tend to have a long helix-shaped handle, which allows for smooth stirring without breaking ice apart. Bar spoons often have a flat disc on the bottom end which can be used for muddling, though sometimes this is replaced by a small fork or weighted ball of metal. A good bar-spoon doesn’t have to set you back much money, but will greatly improve your stirred cocktails.
Lemon and lime juice are essential ingredients in a vast number of cocktails, and there is no better alternative to freshly squeezed. Whilst many bars have big electric juicers allowing them to juice large quantities of fruit every night, the size and expense of these machines makes them fairly impractical for use at home. The best option for amateur bartenders, or even low-volume cocktail bars, is the Mexican Elbow. These hand juice-presses make juicing lemons or limes quick and efficient and are available in a range of sizes for various fruits.
If you’re keen to have a go with a professional cocktail kit and don’t want to invest in one yourself, or if you just want to try before you buy, our mixology masterclasses are aimed at beginners with a focus on being entirely interactive, with each guest getting to use their own specially designed mixology workstation, complete with all the equipment.
To join one of our cocktail workshops just visit the link here.
MIXOLOGY AT HOME: THE INGREDIENTS
Once you’ve got your kit you’re going to need some ingredients to put into your cocktails. Below is our guide to the essentials of stocking your home bar.
Cocktails can generally be split into three distinct components. Whilst many drinks use more than three ingredients almost all of these ingredients fall in to one of these three categories: Bases, Modifiers and Flavouring/Colouring agents.
The Base is your spirit, generally an alcohol of around 40% like vodka or whisky. This liquor is going to be the foundation of your cocktail’s flavour and make up most of its volume. Modifiers are added to the base spirit to help round out the flavour or texture of your drink, these can range from fortified wines and vermouths, to liqueurs, low alcohol spirits, fruit juices and even egg whites or cream. Finally, we have special colouring or flavouring agents, these tend to be flavoured syrups and bitters, used in very small amounts to give further flavour or colour to a cocktail.
What’s a cocktail without liquor? Well that’s a mocktail, and whilst there’s certainly an art to making good alcohol-free creations most home-bartenders are going to want some alcohol in their drinks. With a huge range of spirits and liqueurs available, and a myriad of different brands to choose from, stocking your home bar can seem a little overwhelming. The most important thing when choosing your ingredients is to pick things you like. Maybe your favourite drink is bourbon, or you love a good gin – whatever your spirit of choice, you can be guaranteed to find a whole host of recipes to cater to your tastes. Spirits are probably going to be your biggest expense when making cocktails at home, but if you stock up on a few back-bar essentials you should be able to make a huge range of drinks and only have to replace your main bottles every so often. Mixology means mixing, and when you’re adding juices, syrups and whatever else to your spirits it’s not essential to buy the best stuff available, you can easily make premium cocktails without using top-shelf spirits. This doesn’t mean quality doesn’t matter, though. Try to aim for mid-range spirits for your mixed drinks, but if you’re leaning towards more alcohol-heavy cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Martinis, the taste of your cocktail will rest heavily on the quality of your spirit.
Once you’ve got your spirits sorted you’re going to need some liqueurs. Liqueurs are generally made from neutral alcohol, which has been flavoured with various natural or artificial flavours and sweetened with added sugar. Some common cocktail liqueurs include; triple sec (orange liqueur), Maraschino (a sweet cherry-flavoured liqueur), and Campari (a bitter liqueur flavoured with orange and spices). Liqueurs tend to be lower in alcohol than spirits, but can range from about 15% to 55% abv. Due to their lower alcohol content, Liqueurs tend to be a bit more inexpensive than spirits, and their high sugar content mean that most recipes only call for a very small amount to help sweeten or flavour a cocktail. This means a few well-chosen liqueurs can last you a long time and help you to make a wide range of different drinks.
SYRUPS, JUICES & SPECIAL INGREDIENTS:
As well as alcohol, your cocktails are probably going to need some other ingredients. Generally referred to as modifiers, these ingredients help to add flavour or texture to a cocktail. Whilst some drinks are made solely of liquor, most cocktails will call for one or two non-alcoholic ingredients as well. Lemons and limes are essential – at least half of all cocktails contain some form of citrus, and there’s no better alternative than freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. Be sure to stock up and get yourself a good juicer or Mexican Elbow.
Next up you’re going to want some syrup. There’s a huge range of flavoured syrups available on the market to help infuse some extra depth and sweetness into your cocktails, but at the very least you’re going to need simple syrup. Simple syrup, sometimes called sugar syrup or gomme, is an equal parts mixture of sugar and water. It can be simply made by boiling water and mixing it with white sugar in a jug. For a thicker, sweeter syrup you can simmer it on the hob for a few minutes, and once you’ve mastered the basics you can start experimenting with other sugars and adding other ingredients.
Some cocktails will call for ingredients that change the texture of the drink. One of the most common texture-enhancers is egg white. Don’t be alarmed about using raw egg, as long as your eggs are fresh and fairly good quality there should be no harm putting them in your drink. If you’re a vegan, or you just don’t fancy eggs, there are alternatives. One of the best vegan thickening agents is Aquafaba, which is essentially the starchy water from a can of chickpeas.
Finally, your cocktail recipes may call for a special colouring or flavouring agent. This could be anything from flavoured syrups, like grenadine, to cocktail bitters such as Angostura and Peychauds. Cocktail bitters are highly alcoholic tinctures flavoured with bitter or sour herbs and spices. Originally created as early forms of medicine, many modern cocktail recipes call for some form of bitters. These sorts of ingredients tend to be used in very small amounts to give an extra boost of flavour or change the colour of a drink.
So you’ve got your kit, you’ve stocked your bar with all your ingredients. Your freezer’s full of ice and you’re ready to start mixing. But before you get creative you’re gonna need to learn some basic cocktails. We’ve compiled a great list of websites and books to help you get mixing on the next couple of tabs, and with our handy how-to guides we can lead you, step-by-step, through some of our favourite classic cocktails.
There are hundreds of cocktail bars in London and thousands around the globe, all trying to make their mark on the world of mixology. We’ve selected some of our favourites as well as some of the most notable bars for their contributions to the industry and compiled them below. Be sure to give these places a visit for some of the best drinks in the world.
Dandelyan/Lyaness – The Mondrian Hotel, 20 Upper Grand, SE1 9PDCreated by Ryan Chetiyawardana, AKA Mr Lyan, or ‘The World’s Most Awarded Bartender’, Dandelyan (recently reinvented as Lyaness), currently holds the number one spot on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list. Mr Lyan has a slew of London Bars but, by far the most decorated and renowned, Dandelyan has been innovating mixology with strange and rare creations since first opening in London’s Mondrian hotel in 2014. With a focus on sustainable and underused ingredients, the menu can seem strange and unnerving but no matter what you order you will be guaranteed to get a world class cocktail.
The American Bar at The Savoy – The Savoy, The Strand, WC2R 0EZ
Britain’s oldest surviving cocktail bar, The American Bar at The Savoy has been serving high-quality cocktails since 1893 and still remains one of the world’s most celebrated and respected bars. In 2017, they topped the World’s 50 Best Bars list and currently hold the number two position. Tales of the Cocktail also named them world’s best bar in 2018 and they continue to innovate and improve upon their classically styled cocktail menu. Featuring a live pianist every night and a breathtaking Art-Deco interior, The American Bar is an unforgettable experience and a must-visit for anyone keen to try some of the best cocktails London has to offer.
The Bar With No Name (69 Colebrooke Row) – 69 Colebrooke Row, N1 8AA
Now a decade old, The Bar With No Name or 69 Colebrooke row was the first bar opened by Tony Conigliaro, the most famous and highly respected protégé of legendary London bartender Dick Bradsell. Colebrooke Row is themed around film noir, featuring a signature red lamp over the door to guide inquisitive drinkers inside, where they will find a small but perfectly formed cocktail bar. Drinks menus are updated regularly and the bar also serves a delectable selection of small-plates to pair with the cocktails. This hidden gem is tucked away in a backstreet of Islington but for those who can find it (and bear the wait for a table), there lies within one of London’s best kept cocktail bar secrets.
The Cellar Bar at TT Liquor – TT Liquor, 17B Kingsland Road, E2 8AA
Located in the vaults of their East London home: the former cells of what was once a Victorian police station. The Cellar Bar at TT Liquor opened in 2017 focusing on high-quality cocktails in a relaxed and unique environment. Utilising the wode range of spirits sold in from their specialist liquor store, as well as a few secret ingredients especially reserved for the bar, The Cellar Bar’s menus are designed to take you on trip through time from pre-prohibition all the way through to modern mixology. This hidden basement bar is a local favourite and a refreshing change from the crowded chain-bars of nearby Shoreditch High Street.
THE REST OF THE WORLD:
Harry’s New York Bar – 5 Rue Daunou, 75002, Paris, France
Harry’s New York Bar in Paris is a legendary cocktail bar, originally converted from a bistro in 1911 by its American owner and star jockey Tod Sloane and known then simply as The New York bar, Sloane hoped to capitalise on the growing number of American expats visiting and moving to the city. Sloane hired Dundee born barman Harry MacElhone who took over ownership of the bar in 1923 and renamed it Harry’s New York Bar. The Bar has been in the MacElhone family ever since and over the years has played host to various celebrity cocktail drinkers and famous alcohol enthusiasts such as Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth and Coco Chanel. The bar also features in Ian Flemings short story A View To A Kill, in which James Bond recalls visiting the famous Paris drinking establishment. Harry’s is renowned for creating some of the most famous classic cocktails such as the Sidecar the Bloody Mary and the French 75 and whilst many modern bars have certainly improved upon these recipes, Harry’s sticks to their original formulas. That coupled with the neon signage the dark-wood interior and the bustling downstairs piano bar, makes stepping into Harry’s New York Bar feel like a trip back to the Paris of the roaring 20s and an unparalleled cocktail experience.
The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog – 30 Water Street, 10004, New York, NY
The Dead Rabbit was opened in New York by celebrated Belfast bartenders Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. The Bar extols the feel of 1920s New York combining the high end luxury of Muldoon and MdGarry’s top ranking Belfast bar, The Merchant with the casual, hard drinking atmosphere of their favourite Irish pubs. Split over 3 floors featuring a taproom downstairs concentrating on beer and Irish whiskey, the slightly more high-end parlour on the first floor serving their legendary selection of cocktails and an events space at the top, The Dead Rabbit is frequented by tourists, locals and everyone in-between. The bar has picked up multiple accolades including more than one top spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list and Tales of The Cocktail’s Best Bar in the World title. Serving painstakingly recreated classic cocktails and imaginative house creations as well as traditional Irish food and even Irish groceries, The Dead Rabbit is a must for any cocktail enthusiast visiting the Big Apple.
Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant – 5929 Geary Blvd at 23rd Ave, 94121, San Francisco, CA
The self proclaimed ‘world’s best tequila bar’, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco has been serving top-class tequila since it opened in 1965. Agave based spirits are a staunch industry favourite despite their messy reputation amongst punters and there’s no better place to drink mezcal and tequila than Tommy’s. The bar proudly boasts ‘the most extensive collection of 100% agave tequila outside of mexico, and makes what many believe to be the best margaritas on Earth’. The birthplace of bartender-favourite, the Tommy’s Margarita—a no nonsense mixture of tequila, agave syrup and lime served on the rocks—this San Francisco staple serves up tequila cocktails and Mexican food every day except Tuesdays and is well worth a visit if you find yourself in SF.
El Floridita – Obispo 557, Esquina A Monseratte, Havana Vieja, 10100, Havana, Cuba El Floridita or just ‘Floridita’ is Cuba’s most famous establishment, an historic cocktail bar and fish restaurant. Another infamous haunt of author and renowned drinker Ernest Hemingway, The bar has stood in the same location—albeit under different names—since 1817. In 1930 Floridita’s head bartender or ‘cantinero’ invented the frozen Daiquiri and cemented the bar’s fame, coining the bar’s motto ‘la cuna del daiquiri’ (the cradle of the daiquiri). Hemingway was such a frequent patron of the bar during the later part of his life that the establishment’s walls now sport multiple pictures of the author and excerpts of his work as well as a life-size bronze bust of the man himself placed at his favourite spot on the corner of the bar.
There are a huge amount of cocktail books and online resources to help you learn every facet of mixology. We’ve compiled some of our favourites below with some standout quotes and tips from some of the most renowned cocktail enthusiasts around. Many of the books listed below are available to buy from our shop and the excerpts we’ve included should help to give you an idea of what they’re all about.
How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion – Jerry Thomas, 1862
The original cocktail guide, Jerry Thomas’s seminal work was the first drinks book to be published in the United States. Often thought of as the father of American mixology, Thomas ran a number of saloons in New York as well as bartending across the country. His guide began as a collection of the various recipes Thomas had picked up throughout his career as well as some of his own creations. Thomas went on to update and improve upon his original book a number of times during his life and included some of the first written recipes for sours, flips and fizzes as well as the first written recipe for a Tom Collins in 1876.
The Savoy Cocktail Book – Harry Craddock, 1930
The ultimate British cocktail book, Harry Craddock’s collection of 750 drinks is still in print today and features the first instances of some of the most popular and well-known classic cocktails, including the Corpse Reviver No.2 and The White Lady. Craddock was British born and learned his trade in America but when prohibition took hold in the 1920s, Craddock moved his family back to England and became head bartender at the Savoy’s renowned American Bar. The American Bar at the Savoy is still one of the most highly decorated and respected cocktail bars in the world and has retained a position amongst the world’s top 50 bars for years, even picking up the coveted number one spot in 2017.
Whilst there were many ‘corpse reviver’ cocktails referred to in the late 19th and early 20th century, Craddock’s Corpse Reviver No.2 is by far the most famous incarnation and the only one still widely drunk today. This equal-parts mixture of gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and Kina Lillet with a dash of absinthe was meant to be drunk as a hangover cure, though Craddock famously noted that “four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks – David A. Embury, 1948
Unlike Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock, David A. Embury was not a bartender, in fact he makes it very clear in the opening of his 1948 drinks manual that he has never worked anywhere in the drinks industry. Embury was essentially a professional alcoholic, a cocktail enthusiast with some very strong opinions, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks is not only a concise and well written guide to home-bartending but also one of the most scathing and hilarious cocktail books you’ll ever read. Sadly it is now very difficult to get hold of an original copy of Embury’s classic guide. Re-releases and edits have been published in recent years but if you’re lucky enough to get a hold of an original copy you will be treated to Embury’s characteristic witticisms and distaste for sweet drinks, as well as some particularly hilarious ‘facts’ from the 40s and 50s such as gin being, “agreed by doctors to be the sole liquor to treat all genital and urinary infections.”
The Joy Of Mixology – Gary Regan, 2003
Gary Regan’s comprehensive cocktail guide feels like a natural successor to Embury’s book. One of the few cocktail books to delve into the theory behind mixology, Regan splits cocktails into categories, breaks down methods and techniques and makes cocktail recipes memorable and easy to digest. Covering everything from ingredients to glassware, Regan’s work is held in high regard amongst amateur and professional mixologists alike and can be a great resource for those learning the craft.
Regan’s casual prose style and industry terminology make you feel like you’re in the bar with him. His diagrams, charts, historical tid-bits and in-depth explanations make the book easy to follow and packed with useful information. Below Regan lays out the theory behind his cocktail groupings:
“By the end of the 1800s many “families” of drinks had been established, but some of the old-master cocktailians disagreed about the correct ingredients needed to make Sours, Daisies, Fixes, Fizzes and other categories of drinks. After consulting many old cocktail books, I have taken a consensus and have redefined some of the existing families, discarded families that I consider to be arcane, and created new families when I’ve spotted similarities among a number of cocktails or mixed drinks.”
The Curios Bartender, Volume 1: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating The Perfect Cocktail – Tristan Stephenson, 2013
For those interested in the science of cocktail making, molecular mixology and creating their own cocktail chemistry. London cocktail legend, Tristan Stepehenson’s celebrated cocktail book delves into the equipment, chemicals and theory behind some of the world’s most inventive and innovative cocktails.
Beginning his career behind the bar at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant and going on to open and run some of Britain’s best bars including the renowned (and now sadly closed) Worship Street Whistling Shop, Tristan Stephenson has earned credibility and respect within the industry. Stephenson’s book goes into detail regarding the tools and know-how behind molecular mixology but his clear and concise style make understanding the theory and history behind scientific cocktail-making easy to understand. Stephenson starts with the history and recipes for classic cocktails and then offers creative twists to improve and expand upon the originals. Below Stephenson details the science behind shaking with egg whites and the methodology behind his famous ‘reverse dry shake’:
“Many bartenders opt for a ‘dry shake’, which means shaking the cocktail first with no ice, then again afterwards with ice, the theory being that the ice somehow inhibits the emulsification of air and water in the drink. I have found this to be a wholly unsatisfactory solution to the problem, since any benefits gained by dry shaking first are negated by the subsequent shake with ice afterwards. I did some trials in attempt to uncover whether there was a better option out there and discovered that doing things the other way around (reverse dry shake) works a lot better.
Give the drink a regular shake with ice, then strain the drink, remove the ice from the shaker and shake the drink again, then pour into the glass.”
The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, Drinks Manual – Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry and Ben Schaffer, 2015
The Dead Rabbit is a legendary New York speak-easy opened by two boys from Belfast. The bar won best bar in the world in the world in 2016, best bar in North America four years in a row from 2013 to 2016 and is nearly always included in the top-ten bars in the world. With a list of awards and accolades as long as a bespoke bar-spoon you might expect these to be a serious bunch of stone-faced hospitality traditionalists, but Muldoon and McGarry set themselves apart by providing friendly, funny Northern Irish service in one of the cocktail capitals of the world. In characteristic style for the Dead Rabbit their debut book consisting of ‘Secret recipes and barroom tales from two Belfast boys who conquered the cocktail world’, won the Best Bartending/Cocktail Book award in 2016. The witty and tongue in cheek intros to the boys that begin the book, give a good idea of their casual but committed philosophy:
“Sean Muldoon is a bar mentor, one of the first of his generation to see the opportunities in the cocktail revival. He takes his place as a taste bud traveller in time, an adventurer of absinthe and sailor on the high seas of sours and slings, an excavator of elixir erudition, a man who made his mark on moonshine.
Jack McGarry is the consummate barman in the flesh. It is he who tamed the tincture tiger and deciphered the lost language of the Ancient Cocktailians. Discovered after years of slumber in a block of hand-shaped ice in the basement of Jerry Thomas’s Exchange Saloon, he is said by some to be the only nineteenth-century barman alive today.”
These are just a few of our favourite books, there are of course hundreds of recipes books, cocktail guides and bartender bibles available but if you’re eager to build your collection these are a great way to start.
There’s also a whole host of websites and industry publications out there for budding bartenders. Whether you want recipes, history or bar recommendations there’s a wealth of information at your fingertips, here are some of our favourites:
Imbibe Magazine – www.imbibemagazine.com
The archetypal industry publication, Imbibe still produces an actual print-magazine as well their comprehensive website, featuring brand features, cocktail recipes and bar reviews. Imbibe is made by the industry for the industry and as well as their publications they also host the Imbibe live show at Kengsington Olympia every year which gives bars and brands an opportunity to showcase their products and consumers and industry professionals a chance to try inordinate quantities of free liquor. (for the price of a ticket)
Barchick – www.barchick.com
Started in 2011 by the anonymous, eponymous Barchick, this blog, app, website and Instagram attracted a huge amount of followers in no time at all thanks to its comprehensive reviews covering everything from fancy cocktails to spit-and-sawdust boozers. Barchick began as a London-centric review site and is still one of the best resources for finding good bars in the capital, but since its creation the website has expanded to include guides to the best bars and restaurants in cities around the world. Whether you want a sexy spot for a hot date or a dingy dive to drink in after midnight, Barchick is a one stop shop to get the low-down on the best bars around.
The Drink Blog – www.thedrinkblog.com
Started by English graduate and certified bartender Morgan and his photographer partner Alice, The Drink Blog provides simple recipes with a slick design. Based in America this pair of cocktail connoisseurs use their blog to present clear recipes for classics as well as their own creations. With a stylish layout and a simple concept this blog provides some great recipes for those looking to expand their knowledge or serve some top quality cocktails at home.
Tales of the Cocktail – www.talesofthecocktail.com
Less of a recipe source or cocktail database, Tales of the cocktail is an industry hub, concentrating mostly on their events which showcase some of the best and brightest in the world of mixology but also providing features, bartender profiles and industry news. The Tales of the Cocktail website is a great way to learn the ins and outs of the industry and stay up to date with the latest developments and goings on in bartending.
TT Liquor – www.ttliquor.co.uk
The blog and website of our sister company, TT liquor hopes to become the go-to resource for those looking to learn about mixology, products and everything cocktail related. We run our trademark mixology masterclasses from their home on Kingsland Road. As well as featuring a huge range of high-end and obscure spirits, craft beers and fine wines in their liquor store, and offering a unique drinking experience in their subterranean Cellar Bar, TT Liquor aims to be the bridge between consumers and the industry. The TT blog features how-to guides, definitions, cocktail history and product showcases, and their online store features over 600 products from liquor and beer to equipment, books and tasting experiences.