Cocktail culture is dense enough that it takes some literature to navigate it properly. Luckily, there are entire libraries devoted to the craft. What makes a great cocktail book? Some, like the best cookbooks ever written, offer tremendous recipes and critical written advice. Others explore the history of the category and how it came to be. Some cocktail books focus on fascinating niches within the realm and some look to blow up the whole ship with revolutionary new approaches and philosophies.
In short, they all tell a good tale, whether it be something as relatively simple as making a stellar Sidecar to how tiki bars and cultural appropriation are intertwined. From classic books that kicked off the entire movement to contemporary publications that add nuance and great new recipes to the scene, these are the best cocktail books money can buy.
Death & Co.
Adding this book to the list is a no-brainer. A well of useful knowledge, Death and Co. also brings incredible visuals and useful tricks and techniques to the bar table. The context is impeccable and the recipes are nearly flawless. Better, it’s inviting to the entire spectrum of drinks enthusiasts, from casual sippers of the occasional Boulevardier to diehard mixologists who like to take deep dives into specific methods as well as twists on classic cocktails. It’s the spirited work of a trio of bartenders who run the eponymous NYC bar, established in 2006.
The PDT Cocktail Book
A decade on and this book keeps humming. Author and world-renowned cocktail mind Jim Meehan sets more than 300 fantastic recipes to captivating illustrations by Chris Gall. The book has a behind-the-scenes feel to it, like walking into a speakeasy that quickly becomes your favorite booze-soaked haunt. Miraculously, the book manages to be at once savvy and cool while incredibly meticulous. It can seem like a bit much at times, from a home bartender perspective, but concepts are explained beautifully and methods are given the top-down treatment, making them all the easier to mimic at home.
Some higher power likely exists if only because of the existence of amaro. The sprawling family of Italian bittersweet liqueurs is an encyclopedia in its own right, fit with secret recipes, medicinal uses, and a lengthy history. James Beard Award-winning author Brad Thomas Parsons breaks it all down, following amaro’s Old World origins all the way to its popularity explosion in the United States. Plus, you get some great
Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide
If nothing else, this book pretty much sparked the cocktail craze as we know it. First published in 1862, the guide can be a bit crude but only when held next to the luminous bar lights we bask in today. Overall, it’s a gem, outfitting the reader with all of the basic principles to whip up some timeless beverages.
Drinking Like Ladies
Written by Misty Kalkofen and Kristen Amann, this book examines the vast and important contributions women have made to the bar and cocktail-concocting sectors. There are recipes from women barkeeps all over the planet, bolstered with amazing backstories. Reading it feels like unearthing treasure after treasure of untold (or simply ignored, back in the day) wisdom from a marginalized community within a historically male-dominated industry.
Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History
Much more of a history book than a “how to,” this important tale walks the reader through rum’s elongated and often troubling history. From the slave era to modern day social marginalization, the Caribbean spirit has always played a part and continues to do so today. We’re not trying to scare you off of the tasty sugarcane-based spirit but it is vital to know how so many of the things we enjoy today really came about—and at what cost.
Tiki can be intimidating, what with the elaborate vessels and complex array of seemingly faraway ingredients at play. Here, author Chloe Frechette breaks it all down in bite-sized morsels. You get 60-some recipes, many downsized for easier at-home production without sacrificing any flavor of complexity. On top of that, you get plenty of info regarding the genre’s origins.
This book is pretty much a lengthy toast, glass in hand, to Jerry Thomas and his seminal work. Historian and cocktail guru David Wondrich takes a close look at it all, including some lesser-known recipes for cocktails like fizzes, punches, and toddies. It’s an enjoyable plunge into the 19th-century drinking scene, the formative—and arguably golden—era of cocktail devising and downing. Whip up a sling, find your favorite chair, and pop open this book for a spell.
This book gives cocktails the Alton Brown treatment. In other words, author Dave Arnold geeks out on the art and science behind making a good mixed drink. The tiniest details are examined, seemingly under a microscope, and you gain a greater appreciation of the detail and nuance at play in a great cocktail. Along the way, you learn how to do everything from making the perfect ice cubes to clarifying complicated drinks. Put on your learning cap for this one.
The Curious Bartender
This British-born book is as handy as they come, arming you with the know-how and inspiration to whip up some truly memorable cocktails. The reference section is robust and the background info behind classic drinks is all kinds of intriguing. It’s the kind of book you’d like in your back pocket at a party, when you’d like to drop some cool knowledge on the genesis of a Sazerac and how best to make it.
The Drunken Botanist
A cool perspective indeed, this book takes a look at the bottom of your cocktail glass through the brain of a horticulturist. Author Amy Stewart talks about the plants that give rise to the many spirits we love, from sake to bourbon. You quickly realize that it’s all an extension of farming and agriculture in general. Even cooler, you get a bunch of recipes and DIY tips for your home garden so you can garnish and gussy up your own drinks program.
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