Five very opinionated tips from Trader Vic on how to serve a perfect cocktail, whether you're a professional or a home enthusiast.

By Sarah DiGregorio
Updated May 23, 2017
Trader Vic's Bartenders Guide
Credit: © Sarah DiGregorio

We're celebrating #TBT with a series on our favorite vintage cookbooks. Tune in every week for great cooking tips, historical oddities and a cocktail or two.

Trader Vic—aka Victor Jules Bergeron—was one of the originators of the tiki cocktail style. He claimed to have invented the Mai Tai (though so did Don the Beachcomber) and he was the mastermind behind the Trader Vic's chain, which started as a little wooden temple to rum in Oakland in 1934 and later expanded to Beverly Hills, Hawaii and midtown Manhattan. His aesthetic—potent, flamboyantly garnished rum cocktails rich with spice syrups and tropical juices, psuedo-Polynesian/Chinese food like crab rangoon and South Seas-nautical decor—was all the midcentury rage, before falling out of fashion and then being rehabbed in the last decade at spots like Chicago's Three Dots and a Dash.

Bergeron wrote several books, including Trader Vic's Book of Mexican Cooking, and one called Helluva-Man's Cookbook. (!) But today, we consider Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide, the revised edition from 1972. Perhaps the Trader Vic star was already fading at that point, and it lends the book just a little bit of a nostalgic, bitter edge.

Despite all the rum, Trader Vic was a grump, and it makes him a delight to read. You get the feeling Vic would have hated just about every bar in today's Brooklyn. "Customers turn thumbs down on bartenders who work their shifts unshaven," he writes in a chapter titled "Bartenders Customers Don't Like," which follows a chapter titled "People that Bartenders Don't Like." (A list which includes "the gal who gets chummy with every unattached male in the place. She is most likely a tramp.")

The book also includes over 1,000 cocktail recipes, including all of the tropical rum drinks that made Trader Vic famous—like the classic Mai Tai, the Scorpian Bowl, and the Fog Cutter. Here, five very opinionated tips from Trader Vic on how to serve a perfect cocktail, whether you're a professional or a home enthusiast.

1. Don't put on a show.

"Let me point out right now that fancy twirling of spoons, flipping of glasses and tossing bottles into the air are not the earmarks of a good bartender. Such antics not only do not produce good drinks, they slow any bartender down to a walk. Any guy who goes through a lot of gymnastics behind the bar is just putting on the flash."

2. Measure your liquor.

Trader Vic is not a fan of the free pour. "No bartender is so good that he can make consistently good drinks without measuring. It's especially true of the Trader Vic special drinks and complicated drinks."

3. Know when to shake and when to stir.

Trader Vic's rule of thumb: Cocktails made of clear liquors should generally be stirred so that the resulting drink is crystal clear. Drinks including fruit juice, sugar and/or eggs should be shaken to ensure proper blending.

4. Choose the right glass.

Cocktails that are served "up" need stemmed glassware, so that the customer can hold the stem and not warm up the drink. Cocktails served on the rocks or with crushed ice do not need a stemmed glass, because the ice keeps them chilled. (Trader Vic was partial to those amazing tiki mugs.)

5. Know your rum.

Trader Vic's cocktail recipes often relied on a bouquet of different rums, each bringing something different to the drink—one can't be substituted for another in his recipes. He classifies rums into three main categories: The first is light bodied, dry rums from Puerto Rico; the second is heavier sweeter rums from Jamaica; and the third is medium bodied rums from the Virgin Islands and Barbados.