Everyone has their own “falling in love with cocktails” story. Mine is a bit peculiar: It was from watching Tom Cruise in Cocktail. (Could the craft of whipping up concoctions be this cool?) Yours might be more: From a blue martini you had in a Mykonos beach bar, or a $20 mint julep you had at a world-class destination like Death & Co or Katana Kitten. Though we can probably all agree that there comes a time when we need to learn making some drinks ourselves, so we can stir up those 20-bucks-worthy cocktails at home, hopefully with the same panache as a young Tom Cruise.
The most straightforward way is through a home bar cart stacked with barware supplies and ingredients. Lastly, cocktail recipe books written by actual bartenders to teach you both the techniques and hundreds of recipes. Consider these as the 101 course textbooks to help you get setup using those bartending kits and mixing drinks under your belts before you stock up your home bar.
We’ve rounded up 16 best cocktail books that’ll really teach you how, no matter if you’re a mixologist who already knows how many corpse revivers there are, or a budding barkeep who’ve just discovered the ramos gin fizz. From classic manuals to graphic guides, these recipe books are all, shall we say, spirited.
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Best for home bartending
‘The Bar Book’
Renowned bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler believes that in order to turn your drinking palate into a semi-reputable career path, start small in the pantry before finally upsizing your cabinet—because techniques matter more than how many drinks you can stir up, especially if they’re not awesome. His book has a very manageable number of base-knowledge recipes—a little over 60—and will give you a thorough training into the technical approach to drink-making.
If there’s one thing that’s always right in bartending, it’s to heed the words of Sasha Petraske, the bar world’s late, great icon, the mastermind behind NYC’s Milk & Honey, who’s acolytes spread the craft cocktail gospel across the country. This is his only cocktail book. There’re 85 recipes within, covering the classics and the now, but everything is cleanly illustrated from prep to measurements to ingredients.
‘Meehan’s Bartender Manual’
“Meehan’s Manual” is simply that, a wealth of bar knowledge written by the award-winning bartender himself. It’s more of an anatomy of the bar industry than it is a recipe book, covering bar design to space planning to menu development. In the cocktail section, there are 100 recipes from the vault as well as Meehan’s own walk of life, and each is broken down like a Wikipedia entry: origin, history, hacks, and recipe.
The cocktail encyclopedia
‘The Joy of Mixology’
Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan is a modern bar world legend, like Gordon Ramsey to chefs, and his compendium of recipes demystifies mixology for the newbies and the pros. In it, 350 drinks are classified into different families based on ingredients, with a complete breakdown of the basics—techniques, liquors, finishes, and nuances like why pomegranate pairs well with martinis—so it’s easier to memorize and, when the time comes, reinvent.
From the legendary Mixologist
‘The Ideal Bartender’ (1917 Reprint)
This one belongs in a museum: It was originally written and published before the Prohibition era during the jazz age, by Tom Bullock, a former-slave-turned-bartending-for-President-Teddy-Roosevelt trailblazer. He was the first known Black American to write a cocktail book. The Ideal Bartender provides a rare view into the pre-Prohibition cocktail renaissance, including 173 recipes and some bartending tips that still remain relevant after a centennial.
‘The Savoy Cocktail Book’
A true classic, as it was first written in 1930, by a guy who is credited for the white lady, brought the dry martini to the limelight, and who invented corpse reviver #2 which is “to be taken before 11AM”. Yeah, he’s got quite a resume, and he wrote this tome for classic cocktail recipes when he was at his prime as the barman of The Savoy hotel in London—still a mecca for mixologists to this day. Within, there are 750 of the Savoy’s drinks and glimpses of London’s cocktail society at the time. And the stunning art deco illustrations in the hardcover reprint shall set the 1920s mood.
The cocktail textbook
This is the cocktail bible, written by disciples—or, as we know them, the guys behind Death and Company, a famous moody bar in the East Village where cool bartenders in bow ties and suspenders can whip up some modern twists on classic cocktails like “Oaxaca Old-Fashioned” or “Naked and Famous”. The authors structure it like a textbook and center on the six “root recipes” that all cocktails derive from: Old-fashioned, martini, daiquiri, sidecar, whisky highball, and flip. In every chapter, the arts and crafts behind each cocktail template are explored, and in the end, you’ll get to break the rule of classic mixes and improvise your own.
From the editors at Esquire
‘Drink Like a Man’
This one’s from our own best and brightest, and we only toot our own horn because of our almost 90 years of experience in drinking better. Here, we’ve rounded up over 125 cocktail recipes—including 13 drinks every man needs to know how to make—from crowd-pleasing large-batched beverages to crafted single-served classics. It’s also a manual on how to drink—up versus on the rocks, shaken versus stirred, in a highball versus lowball—at what occasion (Bar? Party? Solo? Romantic night?). You can find it all here, with some humor and, of course, a damn good cocktail.
The graphic cocktail novel
‘The Dead Rabbit Mixology & Mayhem’
This is actually a graphic novel that, instead of having you suffer though pages of dry infographics, tells a Gangs-of-New-York-ish story of an anti-hero rabbit who goes on a revengeful murder spree against people in the bar world, with 90 cocktail recipes mapped out across each illustration page and connected to the page’s plot. The bar in the book, The Dead Rabbit, is real, by the way, and this novel is the unheard-of way its owners have decided to present a cocktail menu. Some skills are needed pull off their rather innovative concoctions, like a creamy “Billion Dollar Man,” so it’s more of a pro’s territory.
From the award-winning bar
‘The Japanese Art Of The Cocktail’
Masahiro Urushido is the owner and head bartender of Katana Kitten, one of Esquire‘s Best Bars of 2019. What makes Katana Kitten—and Master Urushido—special is the way they infuse Japanese cocktail-making art with American comfort bites that’ll have you musing on the lines of “I can easily devour this” and “This needs to be savored”. In his book, Urushido gives his ode to Japanese mixology with eighty curated recipes, each sublime enough to be served on a highball. There’s also beautiful photography to boot, and the break-down of generational cocktail techniques that’ll get you wonderstruck on “Oh so this is how that works”.
For tropical cocktails
‘Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails’
Tiki, the tropical cocktail, often demands upwards of seven hard-to-get ingredients. So having a Tiki cocktail book handy is your best bet. This particular one has stirred up some sensation: It is the first cocktail recipe book written and published by an African American bartender in over 100 years, and offers some breath of fresh air from the traditional rum-based Tikis. In it, Mustipher manages to hinge on the Tiki extravagance, but makes drinks like blue curaçao or pineapple-banana daiquiri easy to execute.
For latin American classics
‘Spirits of Latin America’
Ivy Mix’s story starts with her first taste of mezcal in Café No Sé, Guatemala, where she had to pay off her tab by bartending. That was her cocktail yarn, one that led her to explore the spicy drinks in the Latin world, and came back with this atlas of Latin American spirits culture that has more than 100 lauded recipes from her bar, Leyenda, in Brooklyn. Within, she details the Latin palate, her spins on traditional pisco sour or mojito, and her own invention like the tia mia which is a blend of mezcal, rum, and orange curacao.
For party entertaining
‘Booze & Vinyl’
Booze & Vinyl is the how-to-host-a-booze-listening-session guide, with 70 albums organized by genre (rock, chill, dance, etc.), and cocktail recipes matching the music and lyrics laid out in each vinyl’s side A and side B. When you want to go slow, jam out to Frank Sinatra with oldies like tuxedo or manhattan in tow. When you need to crank it up, hit some Hip-Hop like The Low End Theory and boogie-woogie with a jazzy sidecar at hand. And when you’re feeling lyrical, Joni Mitchell’s tunes will pair perfectly with a Santorini sunrise or Negroni.
From the popular bar
‘The Nomad Cocktail Book’
You know the NoMad Hotel, right? The restaurant hotel with a nice mahogany bar that was a mecca for happy-hour fixers and cocktail savants alike. Sadly, the establishment is now permanently closed. It marked the end of an era, but the man behind the Nomad bar scene, Leo Robitschek, actually published a book on more than 300 recipes there, with NoMad’s own philosophy on cocktail making included to change the way you see and use spirits.
The Drink Travelogue
More on the cocktail art in Japan, this drink travelogue transports readers to Tokyo and takes them bar-hop across the best bars and mixologists there. It’s written by Nick Coldicott, a long-time Tokyo resident and aficionado of its cocktail scene. He highlights its superb service sector as well as how a thousand-years history has brought out a lively modern scene there. You’ll probably want to book a ticket to Japan right after reading his book, but if circumstances do not allow, you’re always welcome to forage through your liquor cabinet and whip one up based on the book.
‘The Essential Cocktail Book’
Don’t judge a book—even a cocktail book—by its cover. This leather-bound volume might look more of a collectible you’d display at the coffee table and never peruse again after your first skim, but it’s really a great handbook for all mixologists. Gorgeous photography is the first thing you’ll spot in it, for each of its 150 recipes; the methodology and anecdote behind each drink are also as good as a 101 lecture on prepping and serving. It can come across a bit pedantic, but in case you haven’t got it already: All great mixologists are well-read folks.
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