It doesn’t matter whether you have worked at a bar for a long time or if you just like to mix up a drink at home. A well-stocked shelf of cocktail books will help you get better at your job. These days, there are a lot of different kinds of cocktail books out there. They range from books about the history of cocktails to simple recipe guides to beautiful coffee table books.
It’s not just one type of spirit that you can learn about in books. You can also learn about the process of distilling in them. How do you start? We asked some of the best bartenders and bar owners to help us get the biggest names in the world of cocktails.
Best Overall: The Joy of Mixology
When Alex Day, co-owner of Death & Co, saw Gary Regan’s book “Joy of Mixology,” he thought it was great. A co-author of “Cocktail Codex,” Day says, “It’s one of those brilliant works that are timeless in the way that many of us aspire to but can’t achieve. It is one of those works.” He says, “It’s full of ideas that still blow my mind.”
“Joy of Mixology” was written by Gary “Gaz” Regan, who is known as the “godfather of bartending.” In the book, he organizes drinks into families so that bartenders can remember recipes and then make their own. Gaz changed the way we talk about cocktails in a big way, Day says “When you break things down, you can figure out what they are and what you like, while still letting the nuances and humor of his personality show through. Try not to laugh, I’ll let you.” When Day was 22, he first read the book “The book “Cocktail Codex” was based on a lot of research that I did. It was, without a doubt, one of the main sources of inspiration for me when I wrote it.
Best for Beginners: The Drunken Botanist
Drunken Botanist is a guide to the botany of alcohol. It’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for a long time. In it, author Amy Stewart talks about the herbs, flowers, fruits, and trees that make up our favorite spirits and liqueurs, from the grain of rice that makes sake to the agave that makes tequila.
A book called “The Drunken Botanist” tells you how spirits are made, from grain to glass, and raw material to finished drink. Stewart talks about distilling methods, including gardening, botany, economics, and even how to grow crops. There are parts of the book that are biology, history, and mixology: She tells the stories of each spirit in an easy, humorous way. She also gives simple cocktail recipes that anyone can make at home.
Best History: Imbibe!
We asked Justin Lavenue, the owner of one of Austin’s best cocktail bars, what book he always refers to when he wants to make a drink. His favorite book is “Imbibe!” by David Wondrich. “His book is a great way for people to learn about the history of many of the drinks we drink today, says Lavenue.
Jerry Thomas, a bartender who is said to have popularized cocktails in the 1800s, was the subject of the first version of this book, which was published in 2007. It won a James Beard Award for its detailed look into his life and work. Wondrich, a writer and cocktail history expert, recently rewrote and repackaged the book. It now includes new historical findings and more recipes, as well as a new cover. He says this book will give you a good foundation from which to build and will make every cocktail book you read after that easier to understand.
Best Coffee Table Book: Cocktail Codex
When Death & Co.’s Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan wrote “Cocktail Codex,” it was one of the newest cocktail books on the market. There’s a bartender named Ari Daskauskas at Nitecap. He says that the book is very important “Whether you’re just starting out or have been working at a bar for years, this book is for you.
The guide, which looks like a textbook, shows how to make six easy cocktails, like the Old Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Whiskey Highball, and Flip. This book is important to Daskauskas when he comes up with new ideas. “It is the most important thing I use when we’re making our menus,” he says. “The templates in the book help me turn my ideas into something that can be done.”
Best for Bar Owners: Meehan’s Bartender Manual
It’s Meehan’s Bartender Manual “is a must-have for both people who want to open their own bar and run their own program and people who are interested in the industry, according to the manager of The Roosevelt Room. The book was written by Jim Meehan, a bartender, journalist, owner, and founder of the famous Please Don’t Tell bar in New York City. It talks about bar design and functionality, space planning, building rounds of drinks, and more.
During this part, you will learn about all kinds of liquors and liqueurs, including how they are made and where they can be found. The cocktail section walks people through the history of each classic cocktail, the reasoning behind it, and 100 standard recipes (including some of Meehan’s favorite tweaks) that they can make. Meehan also asks some of the best people in the business for advice in the book, like Existing Conditions’ Don Lee, Havana Club’s Rasmus Lomborg, and cocktail historian David Wondrich.
Best for Home: The Craft of the Cocktail
Dale DeGroff, the author of the book King Cocktail, is a key figure in the modern cocktail era. He is known as the “King Cocktail.” For years, DeGroff has had a big impact on the world of cocktails. He’d be the perfect person to write “The Craft of the Cocktail,” which is a master class on how to make the perfect cocktail. In about 240 pages, DeGroff talks about techniques, more than 500 cocktail recipes, and a glossary of terms to help people who don’t know drink slang. Every idea comes from either DeGroff’s experience at the bar or from his huge collection of vintage cocktail books that he keeps in his home.
People who drink spirits and how they’re made start this book off with a history of how they’re made. He also talks about the basics of a well-stocked bar, how to learn important skills, and how the community of cocktail culture works. Still, “The Craft of the Cocktail” is more than just a book about how to make a cocktail. It also takes a look at the whole industry, with stories about people in the business that bartenders should know.
Best for Gifting: The Aviary Cocktail Book
It’s “the most beautiful book ever made,” says Daniel Thomas, the bar manager of the Odyssea Lounge at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. “The level of detail, science, and process that goes into making and presenting drinks in this book is nothing short of amazing.” 440 pages of recipes and techniques come from the team behind the high-concept cocktail bar The Aviary, the drink-focused little sister of three Michelin-starred Alinea. The Aviary is a high-end bar with a high-tech look. The 8-pound book’s beautiful design should be on your coffee table (and makes an excellent gift for cocktail aficionados).
Grant Achatz, the chef behind The Aviary and Alinea, gives his thoughts on each page, as well as words from co-owner Nick Kokonas and recipes from beverage director Micah Melton. Make sure to keep in mind, though, that this book isn’t just for recipes; it’s more of a piece of art.
Best Classic: The Savoy Cocktail Book
Since London’s The Savoy first opened the American Bar in 1889, the hotel’s bar has been a favorite place for cocktail lovers to enjoy their favorite drinks. In the world, the bar is still number five. When Harry Craddock wrote “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” he was one of its most well-known people. Before 11 a.m., or when “steam and energy are needed,” he says of the Corpse Reviver No. 2, he worked at the bar in the 1920s. He came up with a lot of classic cocktails, like the Corpse Reviver No. 2.
He called this book “the most important tome of its kind” in the 20th century. In the book, Craddock lists hundreds of recipes for punches, fizzes, martinis, and more. Many of these recipes can still be found on the best cocktail menus in the world today. If you want to see how the 1930s looked, you can look at this 2013 copy, which is based on the original. Art Deco cocktails and people from the 1920s are shown in full color in the book.
Best for Creatives: Liquid Intelligence
In “Liquid Intelligence,” Dave Arnold, the owner of Existing Conditions in New York City, rethinks classic cocktails and how we make them. He looks at temperature, carbonation, sugar concentration, and acidity to figure out how to make them better.
The first section walks people through the best ways to measure and what Arnold thinks about every cocktail ingredient and tool out there, from Parisian shakers to cobbler shakers and juicers and centrifuges. The main parts of the book are divided into sections on traditional cocktails and new techniques. The former talks about ways to improve a traditional cocktail, while the latter talks about new techniques (think hot pokers, nitro muddling, and more). But even though this book is a lot of fun for people who are interested in science, Arnold has simple (and not-so-simple) cocktail tweaks for people of all skill levels.