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The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique Format Kindle
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I've trained about 60,000 bartenders in 60-odd (sometimes very odd) countries in the last 15 years. I've founded Europe's largest bar school as well as an award-winning craft cocktail bar, and if I could go back in time I would give Jeffrey's book to each and every student I've ever had. As it is, I will give it to every student I have from now on.
Jeffrey's research, insight and experience have resulted in a book that will shave years off the time needed to master drink making, leaving more time for professionals to concentrate on creativity and hospitality, and for interested Cocktailians** to concentrate on seducing your neighbours' wives (and husbands) at the excellent cocktail parties you will henceforth be able to effortlessly throw.
This is where you click "buy now". Now!
* Disclosure: Jeffrey is a friend and contemporary of mine, but such a cheap, thoughtless bastard that not only did he not think to offer me a financial inducement in return for a positive review, I even had to buy my own copy of this annoyingly excellent book.
** Cocktailian = cocktail equivalent of a foodie.
This book truly delivers. It is beautiful with magnificent photos, it's the right size to sit on a bar shelf and, most importantly, it really gets down to the details of technique. A good example is the chapter on shaking...
About a week ago (before buying this book) I cracked the glass part of my Boston Shaker when trying to release it. It made me realize that I really had no idea how to deal with shaking a cocktail in general. Then along comes Morgenthaler's chapter on shaking. He starts by listing (in detail) the different shakers and how they can be used. He describes (in detail) the brands and qualities of the various shakers and what characteristics you should look for in each type (heavy gauge vs. light gauge steel for example). He then continues with how to grip the Boston Shaker (in detail - are you seeing a pattern yet?) and even how to practice shaking (he has his trainees use rice in the shaker).
In short, this is EXACTLY the sort of information I had been looking for. The book is all about the technique that creates a truly wonderful cocktail. Yes, it includes some great recipes (more can be found on the author's blog) and, yes, it has great pictures and the explanations are well written. But most of all it gets down to the details that you could probably only get if you had a pro working alongside you.
I suspect that there is a lot of great information in this book for even for professional bartenders, but it remains very accessible.
I can guarantee that the pages of my copy will soon be stained with various bitters, spirits and juices.
The three elements of cocktails are recipes, ingredients, and technique. This book is entirely about technique: making your drinks look better and taste better, and developing your flair for showmanship behind the bar. Not the Tom Cruise bottle-flipping, poetry-spouting kind of showmanship, but the proper ways of stirring, shaking, zesting, and juicing; of making, storing, and handling ice; making syrups and infusions, arranging garnishes. As you can imagine, this is a pretty daunting course of study, and I haven't even mentioned the section on measurements: speed pouring, free pouring, batching drinks for multiple guests, and -- gasp -- blind pouring exact measures.
Morgenthaler is such a lively, engaging writer that he makes this technical manual interesting even to casual cocktail enthusiasts; if you're planning on mixing drinks for a living, this book just became part of the syllabus.
I have a few thoughts about it. Started off writing a few things but it turned into a full blown review.
The book is quite good and fills a niche. It's mostly about bar prep type stuff and how to do it. A lot of it is remixed from his blog or his playboy column. A few recipes are updated but quite a few seem left alone (his Irish coffee and his oleo saccharum which iirc isn't even his recipe). I appreciate his inclusion of brands and even model numbers of tools and glassware he uses and where to find them (mostly oxo and cocktail kingdom). Particularly enjoyed where he specified the particular model of glassware an Irish coffee must use with no explanation given. There's science type stuff mixed in (with some pseudoscience eg he says no alcohol in plastics cuz alcohol leeches bad stuff from plastics even though bitters are in plastics with higher surface area contact and he doesn't seem to mind that). There's a few tricks of the trade type stuff with an emphasis on making it approachable for high volume bars. I particularly liked the macgyver centrifuge. No idea why I never thought of that.
What's also nice is occasionally he'll say this is the history of this component or ingredient or how it's made and it's good in these types of situations.
Unfortunately those parts are too few and far between
I see a lot of laziness throughout the book. The orgeat section is a page dedicated to him saying how hard orgeat is to make and he didn't like the process and his friends make good versions and you should buy their commercial versions. Then he posts a japanese cocktail IMO a weak use of orgeat and then he says he knows nothing about the history and you should ask david Wondrich about it if you see it. In the intro to the chapter he talks about how his friend makes the most wonderful syrups and orgeat and stuff and he asked to share her recipes and she said ok so you anticipate the wonderful recipes and you get to the orgeat section but there's no orgeat recipe because he finds it hard to do.
He says citrus juices aged 4 hours is best (except for OJ) with a little chart of his preferred times but absolutely no reason is given.
There's a few sections where he's explaining how to do something like cutting a garnish then he adds a wrinkle saying to do it like this but it's unclear how to do it and there's no picture of this technique to elucidate what he means (eg he says for a thin wheel you should make one half bend forward the other bend backwards so they make feet to keep it upright but just a few paragraphs before he says thin wheels are supposed to be floated elegantly on the drink so what does he mean by upright?) but the next page is a picture of flaming an orange peel like that's the more difficult thing to do. Descriptions of how tos are sometimes poorly worded so you have to read multiple times to form an image in your head of what he wants you to do. A picture would be so much easier
Pictures in general are more for show than education. Like in the section for citrus he'll list a few things but the pictures aren't labelled so if you don't know what a Buddhas hand or yuzu looks like you can't point one out (also because they're not even in the picture). Or he has a page dedicated to him shaking half and half in a jar like that really needs explaining. The only useful picture was the last one that showed the consistency of the final product.
There's also quite a few parts where he says do things this specific way unlike what I've told you with no reasoning or explanation given. like with ginger he wants you to add boiling water and sugar and young ginger in a food processor then strain that even though a page earlier he says don't do that with all other fruits because it's hard to strain a syrup. No reason given why that wouldn't apply to ginger besides that it's fibrous but being fibrous doesn't explain why you should do it differently
He also says blindly buy everything organic even though studies show organic food doesn't taste noticeably different or even good for the environment especially if mass produced
Also there's a section on herbal syrups and he says adding herbs to hot syrup browns (due to the chlorophyll). His solution is to blanch the herbs (which is a pretty good idea as it will denature the enzymes responsible for browning) then mix with syrup and strain it but he doesn't mention the temperature of the syrup (ie he talks about how high temperature ruins the infused syrup but in his solution he doesn't even mention temperature). Seems that you could achieve a similar product by macerating the herbs in room temperature syrup and not have to go through blanching.
His humor shines through generally and makes reading less of a chore and actually quite enjoyable but occasionally it's just overboard. Like the cafe brulot part was just so try hard like a little boy hammering the same tired joke over and over again. That and the blue blazer part seemed added just for the novelty and again no pictures to illustrate what seemed like a very involved process with specialized equipment difficult to describe with just words.
I'm not saying there's not enough pictures. I'm saying there's not enough pictures of descriptions that need pictures and a lot of unnecessary pictures or pictures that don't really describe the process well.
I disagree with his crushed ice mojito because seltzer water gets really watered down and loses the fizz with crushed ice. It was meant to be made with cubed ice as jerry Thomas pointed out.
There's a few places where he writes a page number that's pretty darn useless cuz there's no extra information there or you've already read it and he's mentioning not some detailed recipe but something stupid. Eg he writes in a separate section that his friend makes good orgeat and then writes a page number referring to the intro where he wrote that his friends make good complicated orgeat.
The last thing I quite dislike is the lack of references proper or otherwise. He really needs to cite his sources not just because it's cutting close to plagiarism but also because people want to go look up the source material. A simple this person or this book said this is not enough (unless of course it's from a resource not publicly available like a friends recipe).
Otherwise the book is a wealth of knowledge and really an inspiration for a home bar or a bar program anywhere. The book shines in the details about making much of your ingredients at home and how to use the tools he prefers. Especially love the wealth of trade tips (like centering the glass portion of a boston shaker for a dry shake because there's no cold in a dry shake to contract the steel to create a seal). I think it just needs better editing and more thought put into why something should be shown or written a certain way. hopefully will be addressed in a future edition. Book is like an updated craft of the cocktail with modern tools and science and rediscovered techniques thrown in. Basically it's about everything you need for a good cocktail program besides the liquors
I'm tempted to give it 4 stars just as I'm equally tempted to give it 3 stars to equalize all the other reviews that just pay it lip service. I'm leaving 3 stars because as a long time fan I feel a little disappointed especially considering the standard he has set with his blog and bars.
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