Whether your bar is at home or a workplace, a useful aid for budding and seasoned bartenders alike is a well-researched and entertaining book full of recipes, tips and stories that can be used for reference or just as an enjoyable read. Even bartending pros can be enlightened shedding new light on our practice.

One book that has made an impact on both amateur and professional cocktail connoisseurs in recent years is The 12 Bottle Bar, an in-depth and practical look at creating the most exquisite drinks in the most frugal and resourceful way.

Written by Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, a wine writer for LA Weekly and author of Gin: A Global History, and her husband David Solmonson, a TV and film writer. When they are not busy performing their parental duties, David and Leslie are keen mixologists who are passionate about crafting their own perfect cocktails at home, and also appreciate the performance and precision of a carefully crafted drink in high-end cocktail bars.

In the book, the Solmonsons pose the question, “How do we make the same classic cocktails at home that dot the pages of glossy magazines and are on offer in almost every forward-looking bar, as well (if not better), and without breaking the bank?”. Although their focus is not just on frugality, it’s also an approach that considers using stock in the most efficient way, so as to avoid the use of ingredients for which only a tiny amount is needed.

The premise of the book is that only 12 bottles (as well as fresh juices and homemade syrups) are needed for a bar, and this is enough to provide guests with hundreds of excellent drinking options – something that is overlooked all too often in wasteful consumer society.

Described by Men’s Journal as “Easy, smart, and fun to read,'' The 12 Bottle Bar is more than just a useful list of recipes, as in addition to over 200 drinks recipes, it provides background information, product reviews and buyers’ guides for liquor, other ingredients, tools and glasses, as well as containing sections on choosing and creating garnishes, syrups and liqueurs, useful product profiles and conversion tables.

Of the 12 bottles selected, some may be surprised that tequila did not make the cut, while genever did. This is explained by the author’s back-to-basics approach to mixology which takes them back to the pre-Prohibition Era when bartenders needed to be more resourceful in order to make full use of the limited range of products at their disposal. At this time tequila was not used in many cocktails, while the juniper-flavoured spirit, genever, was a more common spirit than it is currently.

bartender serving cocktail

The Solmonsons’ nostalgia for this period is partly a result of the inspiration they draw from nineteenth-century bartending legend Jerry Thomas, author of the first published book of drinks to appear in the US. The return to practises of this era is also in part a longing for a lost time when fresh products were a necessity rather than a luxury.

The 12 Bottle Bar is complete with a full range of historical contexts and origins behind drinks, drinking customs, terminology, bartending legends, and interesting tales, involving such historical figures as Ernest Hemingway, Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers, Al Capone and Mark Twain. There are plenty of interesting stories and facts to make sure that every bartender has a good number of anecdotes up their sleeve. To top it all off, the book is not without a keen sense of humour, as can be noticed from such sections as ’11 Drinks Not to Order for the Opposite Sex’, a guide to avoiding disaster drinks in romantic situations.

The book also breaks down certain social behaviours and conventions relating to the art of serving drinks, by considering the drinks most appropriate for different occasions, and those best suited to different individuals. One chapter of the book is devoted to the particulars of being a good host, taking every possible facet into account such as the occasion, location, preparation, quantities and measurements, the selection of food and drinks, and the treatment of guests.

The Solmonsons began their journey on the quest for the perfect bar in 2009, which eventually lead to the book being published in 2014. 12 Bottle Bar website can be found here.

We think it is an informative and enjoyable book with a creative and original approach that can be a lesson to all of us, as we learn more and develop new ways of creating and appreciating delicious drinks, sometimes by turning to the past.

If you would like to learn how to create cocktails and drinks like a pro, why not enrol on one of our bartending courses.