If you have a well-stocked bar cart and fancy yourself a budding bartender but find yourself resorting to the same two or three cocktails, it might be time to invest in one of the best bartender books. While there’s nothing wrong with having reliable flavors you can always turn to, you might be missing out on a potential new favorite. Plus, the best bartender books can be a great way to make use of those odd liqueurs and unopened bitters you have lying around but can’t figure out what to do with (say, what is St. Germain, anyway?).
Of course, to shake up the best cocktails, you need the best bar equipment on hand to help you bring your new recipe book of drinks to life. There are a few key items that all levels of bartender should own.
- Shaker – One of the most commonly used pieces of equipment in bartending is the shaker. For cocktail classics such as martinis, bloody marys and margaritas, a shaker is a staple tool that makes the difference between a few ingredients in a glass and a top-quality blend of ingredients shaken to perfection.
- Bar Spoon – If you have ever indulged in an old fashioned, then you’ll have tasted the magic results of a bar spoon. Although they might just look like an extra-long, sometimes twisty and most often metallic variation of the scooping and slurping piece of cutlery, bar spoons are a bartender’s wand and can be used for a lot more than just stirring.
- Strainer – While the shaker’s hard at work and the ice inside is bringing the temperature down for a refreshing finish, the recipe’s end result might need to be without ice. To make this process as easy as possible, a strainer will hold back the ice as you pour out the liquid with ease.
- Tongs – Like an extension of your hands, tongs will allow you to maneuver garnishes and ice without making direct contact.
- Muddler – A mojito without a muddler is like a pina colada without pineapple; it just wouldn’t work. A muddler is used to crush ingredients to release and combine flavors. Although they’re not used in the majority of cocktails, muddlers are essential for some.
Now you’ve got your bar kit together and are ready for the prep and process, you need to consider the glassware in which you’ll serve your drinks. The presentation of a drink plays a huge part in the overall experience, and so having the correct glassware for your cocktail is a must.
- Highball & Lowball – Most cocktails can be served in either a highball or lowball glass, so if you’re looking to keep your glassware collection small, these can be your go-to’s. You might need to adapt some of the recipes to suit the glass, but with the best bartender books, that’ll be a walk in the park for you.
- Martini – Everyone’s favorite cocktail glass is the martini glass. Not always the easiest to drink from and definitely the easiest to spill, but nothing compares to the refined experience of drinking from a martini glass. Shaken or stirred?
- Flute – If it’s a special occasion, then chances are there are flutes around. They’re instantly associated with the finer side of life and so are often used for champagne (or other fizzy wine) cocktails.
- Shot – Get straight to the point and straight to the party with shot glasses. They’ll have you drinking straight liquor quicker than any other type of glassware and are a great addition to any social occasion. Two per person is a good idea — one for the liquor and one for something slightly more friendly to chase it with, like juice.
Some of our favorite bartender books follow the old adage about teaching a man to fish; they break down the essential components of a cocktail, giving you the opportunity to tweak as needed and create your own concoctions. Others are simple reference guides you can turn to when you’re not sure whether you need 3/4 oz or 1/2 oz of triple sec. These guides are split up by base spirit, making it easier to flip to the drink you want.
Whether you’re a master mixologist already, looking to find a new hobby or you’re just wanting to whip up on a Wednesday, these bartender books are the best resource for you. And, of course, they make great gifts for any cocktail lover.
1. Meehan’s Bartender Manual Hardcover
This hardcover book has a simple logo and minimalist lettering, betraying what’s inside: a classic, no-frills guide to not only cocktails but the basics of the bartending world. This book applies a unique attention to detail; there are explanations on core alcohol groups, the history of drinks and even floor plans to iconic bars (down to the locations of the bathrooms). Of course, if you just want to know how to make cocktails, you can find that here, too; there are 100 recipes in the book.
2. Bartender’s Guide To Cocktails
The Bartender’s Guide To Cocktails is ideal for both experienced bartenders and total beginners. It’s a quick overview of the essential knowledge you might find yourself either needing a nudge on or wanting to learn from scratch. The fold-out, single piece of card design makes it easy to store in any bar environment for a quick grab and read when needed. Granted, this isn’t really a book, but it is a necessity in any bar.
3. Tequila Mockingbird
BEST GIFT FOR ENGLISH MAJORS
The title alone probably gives away the conceit for this book; Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird offers “cocktails with a literary twist,” which have punny names that play on the titles of many iconic novels. Many of the drinks are just revamped classics, although there are some clearly original concoctions in this book. Recipes include “The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose,” “Remembrance of Things Pabst” and “Love in the Time of Kahula.” There are also helpful guides to types of glassware, terminology and techniques. But before you think this book is starting to take itself at all seriously, flip to the page with “The Unbearable Lightness of Peeing” and “Are you There God? It’s Me, Margarita.”
4. The Little Black Book of Cocktails
BEST INTRODUCTION TO COCKTAILS
Whether you’re confident in your cocktails or not, The Little Black Book of Cocktails is a dream bar buddy. This handy sidekick has all the answers. If you’re looking for the missing ingredient you can’t remember, some inspiration for a modern twist on a classic or a promiscuous new menu item, this book has got your back. Plus, it’s small size makes it easy to keep around the bar, whether you’re in a place of business or at home.
5. The Mixology of Astrology
BEST NOVELTY GIFT
Sure, you could read the horoscope. Or, you could drink it. The Mixology of Astrology takes a playful approach by grouping cocktails by star sign, analyzing their flavor profile and how it matches up to a sign’s qualities. But Aliza Kelly Faragher takes both halves of the equation seriously, backing up her experience writing horoscopes with hard cocktail knowledge; there’s a primer on when to shake vs when to stir, and a chart breaking down the difference (to the milliliter!) between a pinch, a splash, a dash. Not into astrology? Flip through the book and try out any of the classic cocktails.
6. The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails
BEST FOR WHISKEY DRINKERS
While many cocktail books try to give equal space to all of the major liquors, not everyone likes every spirit. If you’re all about bourbon, then you’re likely to appreciate The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails. This book pretty much does what it says on the tin, offering 100 neatly organized and beautifully photographed bourbon cocktails. They’re grouped by categories like “savory,” “tart,” and “fruit-forward” so you can find the perfect bourbon drink for any occasion.
7. The Mini Bar: 100 Essential Cocktail Recipes
This cocktail guide isn’t one book, it’s eight; each pocketbook sized guide is about one spirit or drink group. There are books for vodka, gin, amaro, tequila, rum, whiskey, sherry and champagne. In total, there are 100 cocktails. Dividing each spirit into its own book makes it easier to find the cocktail you want based on what you have or are looking to drink. Each booklet has a brief intro about the spirit, and every cocktail gets a simple recipe plus a brief paragraph about that drink. The eight books have their own cardboard magazine file to keep them neatly organized. The Mini Bar was compiled by Punch, a James Beard-award-winning online publication.
8. The Ultimate Bar Book
For a serious insight into bartending, mixology and all the tricks and tools required to get you up and running, The Ultimate Bar Book is the best place to start. Mittie Hellmich has pulled together all the ingredient lists and information needed for over 1,000 cocktails. With this bartender book, you can learn the best of the bar world, including the bare essentials, the modern twists and some inspirational variations which will set your bartending above the rest.
9. Drunken Botanist
BEST FOR HORTICULTURISTS
Bring your green thumbs in from the garden and set them to work in your home bar with Amy Stewart’s Drunken Botanist. You’ll be reading for hours and not wanting to put this book down as you explore the history of where your favorite spirits and cocktails came from and how people have tried to create new drinks from all kinds of naturally grown ingredients. For any science lover who enjoys a drink from time to time (or quite often), this book will be your bartender bible.
10. The Home Bartender
BEST FOR HOME BARTENDING
All cocktails in The Home Bartender only require four ingredients or less, and the author, Shane Carley, takes you through each recipe step by step for the perfect finish. This is the second edition of his well-received bar bible, and it has been updated with 50 new cocktail recipes. It’s available as a hardback, so you can turn each page as you sip or also on Kindle if your bookshelf is a digital one.
11. Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All
BEST FOR LEARNING ABOUT BITTERS
The day you discover bitters is the day you feel slightly more like a bartender. If you’re already at that point, then you’ll love finding out more in this book. If you’re wondering what we’re on about, then you need to get reading this book ASAP. Brad Thomas Parsons has documented the unique history, mixology traditions and the best techniques for bartending with bitters. There’s also a bonus chapter exploring recipes for cooking with bitters, too. You’ll definitely want to be having bitters in your food and your drink by the end of this book.
12. Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki
BEST FOR RUM LOVERS
Tiki cocktails seem to exist in a world of their own, seemingly found only in themed bars served in massive goblets and adorned with umbrellas. But there are a lot of great tropical rum cocktails with flavors that are as complex and worth exploring as the best bourbon drinks. This book takes its title from the award-winning SF bar, and recipes include seminal classics like the Mai Tai and Daiquiri. Or, dig a little deeper and find out what “Max’s Mistake” and “The Dead Reckoning” are.
13. Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails
BEST CRAFT COCKTAIL BOOK
Named for the eponymous bar, Death & Co includes recipes to some of the storied establishment’s most iconic creations such as the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. It also includes photos and charts, as well as guidance on important bartending techniques. This book was written by the same team behind the Cocktail Codex, and it makes a great companion to that book.
14. Liquid Intelligence
BEST FOR SCIENTISTS
After years of testing and trying different techniques, Dave Arnold wrote Liquid Intelligence to share all the wisdom and wonder he discovered. The science behind bartending is a vast subject, and to create the perfect serve, you should at least understand the basics of it. This book will take you through every element of bartending and explain how to do it to the best standard, whether at home or in a professional environment. Knowledge is power, and when it comes to bartending, this book will be the best power you have in your liquid library.
15. Cocktail Codex
BEST FOR ASPIRING MIXOLOGISTS
Cocktail Codex takes a unique approach to the standard recipe book. It’s from the folks behind the bar of the venerable Death and Co in New York and Los Angeles, so it’s about as close as you’ll get to a masterclass in mixology. This book very much fits into the “teach a man to fish” school of thought. Rather than a long list of unrelated recipes, this book breaks all cocktails down into their relationship between six core cocktail groups and breaks those groups further down to “core,” “balance” and “seasoning” (for example, the core of a Manhattan is rye, the balance is vermouth and the seasoning is bitters). If you’ve ever wanted to come up with your own cocktails, this is the place to start.
BEST FOR HISTORY LOVERS
This James Beard award-winning book focuses on the lively history of the cocktail in America, starting with Jerry Thomas, considered the “father of American mixology.” The book goes in-depth on the history of the drinks featured and provides recipes. But if anything, it’s an engaging history book first, recipe book second. Its length makes it unlikely to be a quick reference, but something that you sit down and actually read through (perhaps with a cocktail in hand?).
17. The Joy of Mixology
BEST FOR ASPIRING BAR OWNERS
The Joy of Mixology is the kind of book you might buy if you’re actually running a bar. Not only is it chock full of recipes, but it has a detailed history of cocktails and practical advice on running a bar, ranging from dealing with workplace sexual harassment to settling tab disputes with drunk patrons. But it avoids veering into instruction manual territory by grounding the writing in author Gary Reagan’s own immense knowledge and personal experience. If you’re not a bartender, you can still appreciate the helpful breakdown of how different cocktails relate to one another. There are a handful of books that have been dubbed the cocktail “bible.” This might be chief among them.
18. Wine Folly: The Master Guide
BEST FOR WINE LOVERS
Being a brilliant bartender isn’t always about mixing up the fanciest cocktail. Sometimes it’s as simple as pouring a glass of wine. But whatever the liquid of choice, the quality and flavors are paramount, and so knowing exactly which wine to choose for whom is an important part of any bartender’s job. Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette will give you the knowledge you need to be confident in your wine selections, food pairings and background information. With over 100 styles and colors covered, explored and explained in this book, Wine Folly will have you well on your way to a wider understanding of the world of wines.