Regardless of the preponderance of e-readers and online resources, nothing can replace the tangibility of a well-composed book. Be it beautiful imagery or highly-researched content you can’t get anywhere else, a physical piece of media is an extension of your own passions and your thirst for getting to know and understand them better. Cocktail books may be the most essential of them all. Aside from looking great on your kitchen shelf or behind your home bar, these compendiums often feature invaluable recipes and information from some of the industry’s most respected personages and institutions.
Just in the past few years, the number of cocktail books has increased drastically. Long gone are the days when bartenders and home mixologists had only 3 or 4 tried-and-true literary options. Today, in this modern-day cocktail revolution, the alcohol has (largely) remained the same, but the innovation has yet to quit. We’ve compiled a guide for you of the best and, in some cases, most important compendiums for those either aspiring to get into mixing for the first time or experts looking to expand their horizons.
Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way
For the French and Italians, apéritifs have long been enjoyed prior to a big meal in order to stimulate their appetites. And while these types of liquor have been served in the U.S. for over a century now, their traditional usage hasn’t quite caught on on a mainstream level, and may never. However, for those curious to dig deeper, Rebekah Peppler’s book on the topic serves as a definitive introduction and essential breakdown of the apéritif, with the basics of popular types such as Lillet, vermouth, and Campari, among others. When it comes time to give recipes, the author also separates her beautiful 200-plus-page book into four sections: Warm, Hot, Cool, and Cold, referring to the weather, not the drinks themselves.
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All
Everyone who’s ordered their fair share of cocktails has consumed bitters, even if you didn’t know it. From Manhattans to old fashioneds to negronis, many of the most popular go-tos are routinely served with a dash or two of Angostura or Peychaud’s. However, a vast majority of drinkers take this surprisingly diverse ingredient for granted. Not Brad Thomas Parsons, the author of this all-encompassing reference book to the world’s most underappreciated spirit, which includes a detailed history on the topic, as well as a cocktail guide featuring over 70 recipes, both classic and new.
I’m Just Here for the Drinks
If you love all the major types of spirits but don’t know where to start, pick up I’m Just Here for the Drinks by Sother Teague, which is split up into easy-to-digest sections on whiskey, gin, tequila, rum, brandy, amaro, and vodka, with each giving the essential rundown on the liquor, offering some notable brands, and also some recipes in the process. This is a book for beginners, with plenty of room for leveling up as well. Teague also includes a reference section on the basics of making drinks, which includes a brief rundown on the types of mixing, serving, barware, and even ice.
Imbibe! Updated and Revised Edition
First published in 2007, David Wondrich’s award-winning and exhaustively-researched Imbibe! has been cited by nearly every bartender over the past decade-and-a-half. It delves into the life of the Father of the American bar, Jerry Thomas, who penned the first cocktail book in history back in 1862, of which this also serves as an astute companion. Wondrich provides recipes for over 100 classic cocktails and explores the history of each. This revised edition from 2015 adds even more content and updated historical information.
Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki
If Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s were the meccas for the heyday of the tiki craze, then San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove, opening back in 2009, is just that for this modern revival. Founders Martin and Rebecca Cate published their own book back in 2016, which features over 100 tiki recipes from either the pages of history or their own bar’s menu. This beautiful-looking bible also digs into tiki culture as a whole and its history, as well as the origins of one of the most famous bars of this century. Despite being 354 pages, Smuggler’s Cove is one of the easiest reads out there.
The Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks
If you’re more interested in the history of the American cocktail and mixing some early iterations of concoctions before they were truly perfected — such as mint julep, gin fizz, and whiskey sour — then pick up Jerry Thomas’ revolutionary Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks. This unabridged reprint of the first-ever cocktail book is only a few years old and sold for a moderate price. However, if you wanted to snag an original print from 1862 (or even the 1876 — which first published the Tom Collins — or 1887 versions) it would cost you a pretty penny.
The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip
Tristan Stephenson’s series of Curious Bartender books are among the best in the game, but his Whiskey Road Trip is easily his most fascinating — as well as the largest. Through his entertaining prose, the author tells the tale of American whiskey-making through his 10,000-mile tour across 28 states, where he visits 44 distilleries and showcases the regional differences of each area, from Kentucky to Texas to Indiana, and then some. He features plenty of cocktails too, with beautiful photography permeating the nearly-400-page compendium.
Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions
Transmogrifying David A. Embury’s concept of “six basic drinks,” which he promoted in his legendary 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, Cocktail Codex breaks down the fundamentals of mixology at an atomic, if not rudimentary, level. Using this updated six-drink template, Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan’s follow-up to their groundbreaking Death & Co. provides us with over 350 recipes to prove its case. In a new age of experimentation, Cocktail Codex takes a scientific approach that can then be applied to the countless different spirits and mixers available.
The Joy of Mixology
There are plenty of excellent guides available for intermediate bartenders, and countless options for beginners, but Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology is for those aspiring to dig much deeper. Discussing concepts such as mixology theory, drink density, and how to handle angry patrons, this book serves as a master class that instructs on a granular level from the most basic concepts to advanced ideas. First published in 2003, the revised edition from 2018 overhauls the recipe section and updates its contents to fit even better within this ever-changing cocktail industry.
Meehan’s Bartender Manual
Approaching bartending from an industry perspective, Meehan’s Bartender Manual dives into the hospitality and business side of owning a bar and making drinks. From mixing techniques to barware to customer service, Jim Meehan’s award-winning guide doesn’t just look great on your bar cart with its memorable green minimalist cover, but it’s a must-have for the biggest cocktail enthusiasts out there. Head mixologist at New York’s iconic Please Don’t Tell bar (PDT), the author follows up his previous guide (The PDT Cocktail Book) with one that delves into the history of mixology, explores layouts of famous taverns all over the globe, and serves up 100 recipes from his own experience and career in this industry.
Beach Bum Berry Remixed
If you’ve perused our cocktail content, you’ll see Beach Bum Berry Remixed pop up quite often. And for good reason. Jeff Berry is easily the contemporary authority on tiki drinks, exhaustively researching and continuously adding to his ginormous Rolodex of recipes. Here, he combines his two most famous books — Intoxica! and Grog Log, both of which played a huge hand in today’s tiki culture resurgence — into one tome, with over 200 cocktails and tons of history, providing ample information on the major players of early tiki-dom, such as Donn Beach and Vic Bergeron.
Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails
Whether you play the occasional home bartender or are dead serious about the mixological craft, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails is an essential addition to any home bar. From the owners of the legendary East Village bar, Death & Co., which helped usher in this modern cocktail revolution back in 2006 with a notably large bar menu featuring up to 50 drinks at one point, this essential compendium features over 500 recipes for a textbook-style approach that offers plenty of information for casual or expert mixers.
The Craft of the Cocktail
Before he compiled The Craft of the Cocktail in 2002, Dale DeGroff became well-known in the tippling world as the head bartender at New York’s Rainbow Room. His years of accumulated expertise highly informed his groundbreaking tome, which evolved previous eras’ cocktail books of just mere lists into a more immersive cookbook experience. Surrounding his 500 recipes of drinks both new and vintage, DeGroff informs the reader with bartending ethos, fascinating tales, historical fun facts, and tips for the home mixologist.
The United States of Cocktails
Fusing the idea of a cocktail manual with the modern coffee table book renaissance, The United States of Cocktails by Brian Bartels takes time to explore each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) and its cocktail history, with beautiful illustrations to go along with over 100 recipes that have each played a big part in the gastronomy of its respective region. You wouldn’t think that every state has contributed to cocktail culture, but Bartels’ well-researched travelogue informs us otherwise. This leather-bound version looks amazing on your coffee — er, cocktail — table as well.
The Tequila Ambassador
If you can find yourself a copy of Tomas Estes’ The Tequila Ambassador in the wild, consider yourself lucky. A new copy will cost you a few hundred bucks. This grail book had a limited run a decade ago and now owners of the tequila manual aren’t too keen on giving it up. Estes, the co-founder of Ocho Tequila, takes readers through a complete guide to the Mexican spirit, from its history to an exploration of agave nectar, and all the minutia in between. He also features nearly 100 tequila recipes to wet your whistle.
30 Classic Cocktails You Should Know
If you want to bone up on the most essential concoctions in history sans book, check out our informative guide to these 30 classic cocktail recipes.