There’s no shortage of quality bar books these days, but for this issue’s Mutineer Library, we sit down with Portland, Oregon’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common. Instead of focusing on recipes, this book is about solely about technique. Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique will quickly become a must have reference book for home cocktail enthusiasts to master mixologists around the country. Novice or an expert, everyone has something to gain from reading this book.
Mutineer Magazine: If you could be relaxing right now with one cocktail from your book, which would it be?
Jeffrey Morgenthaler: It’s approaching an unseasonable seventy degrees this weekend in Portland, so I’d have to say that I’d probably reach for the Mojito recipe. We talk about a few techniques for that drink, from muddling the mint to crushing the ice, so it becomes a fun drink to build. Never mind the fact that a Mojito is kind of the perfect summer drink.
You’re very well known for your writing on your blog, JeffreyMorgenthaler.com. What prompted you to start that and what was your reaction when people started following it so closely?
Originally it was supposed to be a digital portfolio of my architecture work. I started putting our cocktail recipes on the website simply as a response to our guests who wanted to know how to make the drinks at home. I was honestly pretty surprised when I saw that the site was being visited by people outside of the small town I was living in at the time. I guess that gave me some perspective on the global interest in cocktails in general.
How has your blog evolved over the years, and how have you evolved as a writer and educator?
Well, the blog used to be mainly about drinks and drink recipes, but I’ve tailored it to be more of a resource for bartenders. I remember what it was like being in a small town with no access to information, so I’ve really tried to share everything I can about what we do at our bars. Sometimes that’s a cocktail recipe. Sometimes it’s a new technique. Or sometimes it’s something only other bartenders would be interested in, like a pricing spreadsheet or a recommendation on which shoes are best for your feet while working long hours behind the bar.
What was the catalyst that set this book into motion?
More and more, I’ve been training bartenders here at home and around the country, sometimes even in other countries. And I always start out by showing them that there are three things, of equal importance, that make a great cocktail. The first element is the recipe you choose. There are a million cocktail books out there and they’re all full of recipes. Selecting the right one is going to be important. The second element is the ingredients you choose. Some types of juice are better than others, certain liquors shine better in specific drinks than others, etc. There are a ton of books out there about spirits and ingredients. But the third thing is something that a lot of people don’t think about, and that’s technique. Nobody has written a book entirely about technique before, and I really think there’s some value in that conversation. What’s the best way to make a blended cocktail? What should I be looking for in a shaker? How do you make an orange twist? So that was really the catalyst, the desire to open up another important area of discussion regarding cocktails.
What is the relationship between the content on the blog and the content in the book?
We’ve refined a few of the basic things found on the blog, but we really started from scratch with the book and said, hey, what’s the process we use to make a cocktail? We start at the beginning with basic sorts of prep stuff, and move on through to actually mixing and then serving the drink. So it’s a lot more in depth. The one thing on the blog that you won’t be getting in the book is that additional conversation in the comments section. So when you visit the blog you get to hear a lot of people’s thoughts on the topic. Which I’ve of course learned a lot from, myself, so that information is in the book as well.
What are some of your favorite cocktail books?
Paul Harrington’s Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century was the book I learned from. Dale DeGroff’s Craft of the Cocktail and Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology would be the other two. With those three books, I think you can get a real handle on classic cocktails. Unfortunately Paul’s book is out of print, but I’ve amassed a small library of copies at home.
Are there any non-cocktail books that you’d suggest to bartenders that you’ve found inspirational or that you have drawn certain parallels between with its content and what you do?
There are three I would recommend. Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum, and Tom Standage’s History of the World in Six Glasses are those sorts of narratives that talk about the history of the world from a drinks perspective that I feel is invaluable. And now, thankfully, there is a third to add to that list, and that’s the upcoming Adam Rogers book Proof: The Science of Booze. All three of these form a kind of trifecta for me in understanding how drinks play a part in the larger picture.
In the book, you talk about how you got started in the bar scene while studying interior architecture at the University of Oregon. One could assume that aesthetics, composition, and design are things you take note of. What did you envision in terms of photography and design when you started working on this book?
Yeah, design has been a big part of my life forever, so I wanted—needed—this to look and feel a certain way. Never mind the fact that I needed it to be pretty, I also needed it to be really functional. So when we were talking to Alanna Hale, the photographer, we selected her because she got what we were looking for in terms of function; how we wanted to show how these techniques worked. And I think she nailed it.
To preorder Jeffrey’s book, released June 3, 2014, click here.