The Most Important Bar Tool You’re Probably Not Using

See more Ingredients

I have a confession for you: I can’t remember how to make a Mai Tai. I’m serious, I can’t. I mean, I know what goes in one, I know the legend of the drink, the names of the supposed creators, and the importance of the Mai Tai in modern cocktail culture. I can even conjure up the flavor and texture of the three most perfect Mai Tais I’ve ever had as if they were sitting in front of me.

But for the life of me I can never remember if it’s a half ounce of orgeat and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, or a quarter ounce of orgeat and a half ounce of simple syrup. Honestly, I probably get about five Mai Tai orders a year at my bar, so there’s a lot of time to forget exactly how to make one.

So, rather than just guess at it and risk screwing up my guest’s drink order, I simply swallow my pride and reach for a book that I’ve kept in my back pocket for the past six years: a Moleskine Address Book that contains every drink recipe I deem worthwhile.

It’s the most important tool I own, and I never set foot behind a bar without my book. The alphabetical tabs make it quick and easy to look up a recipe, and inside I’ve got years worth of classic cocktails, house recipes, syrup and mixer recipes for prep or to share with guests, variations, and layer upon layer of correction fluid and margin notes. It’s absolutely indispensable to me.

I also keep a second copy behind the bar, with every house recipe and house version of classic cocktails for my bar staff to consult when a menu drink from two years ago comes across the bar. Additionally, I present each new bartender with their own blank recipe book on their first day behind the bar, and we’ve all spent many late nights sharing with each other and transcribing the recipes we’ve discovered during our travels.

It’s the first thing I mention when aspiring bartenders ask me what my ideal tool kit would be. With a good book, the rest of what we do can be improvised. Pick one up for yourself here.

34 Replies to “The Most Important Bar Tool You’re Probably Not Using”

  • Jeremy says:

    Wonderful idea. I keep a small composite notebook in my pocket and fill it as I go, but having the tabs would make it so much easier. I’m going to be transcribing my notebook into one tonight!

  • Nikki says:

    So I just started training to bar tend at Le Bistro Montage/La Merde after working in the dining room forever, and your blog has really been helping me. So thank you and please keep posting awesome advice for a new bar tender 🙂

  • Adam Bryan says:

    For the iOS users try EVERNOTE. Infact all of Petraske’s ventures use it as a shared database for hundreds of recipies.

  • Ginty says:

    I generally rely on “hard copies” for all my information, so I may invest in a book for myself. But anyone suggest an iPhone spreadsheet that I can get? I’ve been using the “notes” app, but i like the sound of a more organized system.

  • Kenneth Davis says:

    I write up all my recipes in an Excel spreadsheet. It is set up so that it will print out 3 1/2 by 5″ which I do on card stock, I then punch holes in one side and create a small book. In this way I can easily revise them and reprint, replace damaged pages, and never encounter the issue where I run out of pages for a given letter of the alphabet. And then use plastic for the cover pages and alphabetic tabs.

  • DG says:

    Same idea, but after “losing” half a dozen of my notebooks over the years, I tried to bring a bit of technology into it at my bar by putting up a shared Google Docs page that every new employee gets included on, and it’s been great. It’s nice because then it’s not just my original list of drink specs, but if one of the other guys gets worthwhile order when I’m not around, they can throw it up into the pool and everyone gets to work off the same shared list of recipes for consistency and science. At the end of every week I print out a new copy, fold and bind it, and replace the old one behind the bar (hate people looking shit up on their phones at work too). We try and cull every now and then it so it’s all killer and no filler, but it’s nice when a customer comes in and wants a drink that only one of the other bartenders made the other night, any of us can look it up and give them the same drink (and everyone gets to have fun trying to get new drinks onto the list).

    That said, I still have my own private little handwritten bible in my bag that I’ve been carting around for years, but I do dig having a group one for collaborative effort behind the bar. Especially good for a small place like ours where we rarely work at the same time and have a chance to see what the other guys are doing (and it lets them throw in an update from their phones if they’re out on the town on their nights off and see something interesting).

  • Thanks, janessa, but don’t make me blush.

  • janessa says:

    I hope my husband doesnt see this, but just fell in love with you a little bit. HaHa. Thank you for admiting your human and caring about the integrity of the drink !

  • Mark says:

    Rather than a regular address book I may suggest a “Rite in the Rain” journal. That’s the brand name and I have nothing to do with the company – I just use them.

    They’re used by surveyors, biologists, geologists and other folks who work out in the weather. I used them when I was doing environmental work. You can get them hard bound, sprial bound, pocket sized or larger. The main thing is that the pages are water proof – spilled drinks shouldn’t disintegrate them. The catch is that you need pencil or sharpie to write in them. Certain brands of ball point pens won’t stay on the paper. Some do, some don’t; you’d have to experiment.

  • RJ Ulbricht says:


    I’m old school myself. Started using a DateTimer back in 1981 and still do vs. all my friends who have moved their lives to their cell phones, etc. Strange, I never have to plug my DateTimer in or need an upgrade.

  • Howard says:

    I love moleskines! I use a small one for every day catcher of some mention. Now will try the addresss one for cocktails.
    Do you list by name of the drink? Or by the type of spirit?

  • Dan McKay says:

    Hahahahahaha! thats amazing and so true, the Mai Tai is the drink that got me into mixing drinks when i was 18, and after reading this, i stopped myself to think of what the exact proportions were. Address book is a great idea.

  • JD says:

    Hey Jeff,

    Not completely related to the topic but do you have any recommendations for good cocktail books on tiki drinks?


  • rowley says:

    Nothing beats an actual book for preserving information. My painful lesson on the value of a Moleskine: Years ago, I put all the contact information I had for two decades of moonshiners, home distillers, law enforcement, retired ATF agents, liquor historians, and the like on a Palm. They had been scattered among napkins, scraps of paper, matchbooks, the backs of receipts, beer coasters, etc. Once they were all in one place, I threw out the scraps. Then didn’t use the Palm for a month. Turns out that when the battery dies on one of those things, ALL the information on it simply disappears. Almost 20 years of data: gone. I was able to reconstruct some of it, but that was the day I learned to distrust digital storage and rely, always, on hard copies for the most important stuff. Moleskine works best and my current one looks every bit as worn and duct-taped as yours. Now, if I can just remember not to run it through the wash…

  • Kadir says:

    It’s a awesome tip for New Bartenders like me. I always scare about the forget recipies. But I think a Bartender who is workin’ in Touristic Places Like me, must Know International Cocktails. But a Bartender must have notebook like this. Thanks Sir. Keep bloggin.. We’re Following you.

  • not_carlos says:

    Thanks to lifehacker, I found one of my new favourite blogs! This is seriously a great idea and beats using my phone behind the bar, or worse, the bars own drink recipe book (literally sheets and sheets and sheets of print outs from different websites). I ordered my moleskine a couple days ago and am ready to fill it up with the growing list of cocktails on my phone, cheers!

  • I think that we all have our little notebooks behind the bar, but this article is so true and the idea of the specific address book looks amazing.
    Thanks for sharing… 🙂

  • Warren says:

    I keep a list of important recipes in a spreadsheet as well (does anyone else use Regan’s cocktail categories?), but I never thought of copying them into a moleskine. That would be easier than reaching for a book that might not have the recipe I want.

    Ideally, I’d love an iPad with my recipe spreadsheet open, but I think if I pulled out my iPhone to look up a drink in front of one of my guests, I’d be strangled on the spot by my manager.

    Nice to see you blogging again, Jeffrey, and still patiently waiting for a cognac-based recipe, sir.

  • Phil says:

    Great post I’ve been using a moleskine notebook for a while to jot down my favorite drinks but for some reason I never thought to use an address book to keep them in order. I guess that’s why you’re the boss. I’ll be purchasing my moleskine address book today. Thanks for the great tip and for another great post.

  • Angus says:

    I keep mine in an excel spreadsheet with ingredients in consecutive columns. Measures are automatically calculated according to number of serves.

    I think you’ll find this blows the moleskin clean out of the water.

  • J says:

    Great post. Congrats on LifeHacker picking this one up.


  • John says:

    skip the phone, the book simply looks better. I’ve had to upgrade to something with more pages now though as keeping track of cocktails written in the margins has become fairly difficult.

  • Adam Bryan says:

    I have several Moleskins containing recipies both personal and historical, problem is I often can’t read my own handwriting so I’ve been using the iPhone for the last couple years. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible of course. At “Motel” (opening in May) we will be using an iPad based POS system so all of our recipies will be accessible, updateable and shareable! Yay!!

  • Tiare says:

    During those years i worked as chef in various restaurants i always carried my little black book with me, i still have it and now i also have several with drinks, and etc etc even though i just blog and don´t work in a bar. I like real books.

  • Tony Harion says:

    There is an ongoing thread about ways to keep track of recipes on the Chanticleer Society.

    My take is whatever suits you best. I can definitely see your point on the comment above about using the phone, but also like a practical aspect of a digital copy.

    I think for bar setups the notebook even ads an additional piece of history/flair to the drinks you are making.

  • If Jeff Morgenthaler can’t remember the recipe for a Mai Tai without his notebook.. then we’re ALL allowed to look up recipes.

    Thanks for gradually de-elitifying the elite drinks-making world. :p

  • Mindy Kucan (@drinkswmindy) says:

    I have a Moleskin and an index card box I keep at work because I like to wear skirts (no pockets!). Matt, good call on Evernote!

  • J. Armitage says:

    Could not agree more on this subject, my only concern is i need to invest in a more capacious a-z.

  • Doug Ford says:

    Matt has hit on my first reaction, that it makes a certain amount of sense to keep your notes in [smartphone-of-choice], as opposed to a physical paper book.

    So I’m wondering: I like the idea of a “real” book—I’m a book guy from way back. I love the feel, the smell, the tradition, but it seems it would be a bit unwieldy for this purpose as the sections fill up. Do you find that happening, or is that a non-issue?

    • Doug and Matt

      Digital copies of preferred recipes is certainly the way to go in terms of sharing and archiving. What doesn’t make a lot of sense is handling a cell phone with wet hands, while your guests look on, uncertain if you’re looking up the recipe for their drink or just sending a text message to your friends.

      Additionally, I insist that my bartenders refrain from handling their phones – or anything that touches their mouth and face. Stick to the book and leave the cell phone underneath the bar.

  • You told me to invest in one about 3 years ago and mine is steadily taking on the same beat-up, well-used look as yours.

    I can concoct a scheme for a bar with no shaker or no spoon, but I can’t handle not having my book with me (except for the fact that I’ve put all of the recipes into Evernote on my phone).

  • Simply Fantastic, a great reality. My first “Head Cantinero” use to had a red notebook, my grandfather who was a bartender, also had a notebook.
    It is also important because if you’re not in the bar, your crew can made the same recipe cocktail, the bar’s own creation.Keep the particular style of each bar, for example a Cuba Libre with slice of lemon or lime, or how many? drops of bitters in a Manhattan.

    Mr. Jeff BeachBum Berry, rebuilt the lost knowledge of tiki cocktails, because I get to his hands, a notebook property of a retired tiki bartender.

    Dear friend, always a pleasure reading your blog.

    Best regards from the far south

    Federico Cuco

  • Great post and so true. The fanciest tools in the world are useless if you don’t know what goes into a drink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *