If you have a well-stocked bar cart but find yourself resorting to the same two or three cocktails, it might be time to invest in a cocktail recipe book. And while there’s nothing wrong with having reliable favorites you can always turn to, you might be missing out on a potential new favorite. Plus, cocktail 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?).
Some of our favorite bartender books follow the old adage about teaching a man to fish; they break down the essentials components of a cocktail, giving you the opportunity to tweak as needed and create your own concoctions. Others are simply easy reference guides that 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 budding mixologist or you’re just looking for something to whip up on a Wednesday, these bartender books will give you the basics you need. And of course, these books 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. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.”
5. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
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?).
10. 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.