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Whether you've spent years "behind the stick" or simply enjoy stirring up a drink at your home bar, a well-stocked shelf of cocktail books will help you improve your craft. Today’s cocktail books aren’t your standard recipe manuals—they range from deep dives into the history of craft cocktails to breezy recipe guides to stunning coffee table books.
There are also books that focus on one type of spirit, as well as on the ins-and-outs of distilling. Not sure where to start? We asked top bartenders and bar owners to help us select some of the top tomes of the cocktail oeuvre. One classic text that has aged well is The Joy of Mixology.
Here are their picks of the best cocktail books to help you build out your boozy bookshelf.
Best Overall: The Joy of Mixology
Gary Regan’s "Joy of Mixology" is top of the class, says Alex Day, co-owner of the acclaimed Death & Co and Proprietors LLC. "It is one of those brilliant works that are timeless in a way that many of us aspire to, but ultimately will never succeed," says Day, who first read the book as a 22-year-old barback and is now himself a co-author of a well-received cocktail book. “It is full of insights that blow my mind to this day.”
Published in 2003 and updated in 2019, “Joy of Mixology” was written by Gary "Gaz" Regan, the beloved godfather of bartending, who categorizes drinks into families to help bartenders remember recipes—and, in turn, build their own. Gaz fundamentally changed how we talk about cocktails, Day explains: "breaking down, methodically, a way to understand them, to demystify, and then find your preferences—while having the nuances and levity of his personality shine through. Try not to laugh, I dare you."
Best for Beginners: The Drunken Botanist
The New York Times-bestselling book “The Drunken Botanist” is a journey through the botany of booze. In it, author Amy Stewart explores the herbs, flowers, fruits, and trees that make up our favorite spirits and liqueurs—from the grain of rice from which sake is born to the agave that turns into tequila.
For those wondering where your booze comes from, “The Drunken Botanist” explains how spirits are made, from grain to glass, raw material to final spirit. Stewart tackles distilling methods, going into gardening, botany, economy, and even crop practices. It’s part biology, part history, and part mixology: she weaves readers through each spirit with an easy, humorous writing style, breaking up stories with simple and accessible cocktail recipes.
Best Classic: The Savoy Cocktail Book
Since London’s Savoy first opened the American Bar in 1889, the hotel’s watering hole has been a mecca for cocktail lovers. One of its famous faces was the author of "The Savoy Cocktail Book," Harry Craddock: he manned the bar in the 1920s and invented a range of classic cocktails, including the Corpse Reviver No. 2 (it's “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed,” he says of the drink).
Gary Regan once dubbed this cocktail book “the 20th century’s most important tome of its kind.” In it, Craddock documents hundreds of recipes for punches, fizzes, martinis, and beyond. Many of these recipes still grace today’s best cocktail menus.
This 2013 reproduction is a facsimile of the 1930s original and captures the mood of the era. The book is filled with full-color illustrations of Art Deco cocktails and 1920s patrons of the famed bar.
Best Contemporary: Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails
Tiki cocktails are notoriously complicated, constructed upon hard-to-source tropical ingredients and often calling for upwards of seven ingredients per drink. In her new book (the first cocktail book written by an African-American bartender in over 100 years), Shannon Mustipher breaks down the category in an easy-to-digest way, guiding readers through making fresh fruit juices, homemade syrups, and quick-to-execute recipes.
She takes Tiki far beyond rum, sharing whiskey-based tropical cocktails, vodka options, and even soju cocktails with a Tiki spin (plus, plenty of party-ready large-format punches). All are laid out in spreads of high-octane, highly colorful imagery—add it to your coffee table and spend hours flipping through.
Best History: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails
Cocktail enthusiasts know that some of the best classic recipes date back hundreds of years, such as the Martini and the Sour. But in "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails," Ted Haigh (also known by the moniker Dr. Cocktail) digs deeper into cocktail history, handpicking 80 rare cocktail recipes, from the Brandy Crusta to the Alamagoozlum to the Fog Cutter.
He breaks up the recipes with historic facts and anecdotes, as well as with full-color vintage advertisements and illustrations. While the recipes are certainly worth taking for a spin, you’ll enjoy perusing the pages just as much.
The book covers gin, whiskey, Scotch, brandy, and rye, though some of the ingredients may prove quite tough to source. That said, it’s still a great read for any level of drink maker.
Runner-Up, Best History: Imbibe!
When we asked Justin Lavenue, owner of renowned Austin cocktail bar The Roosevelt Room, for his favorite cocktail book, he didn't take long to land on “Imbibe!” by David Wondrich. "His book is a great resource for readers to discover the origins of many of the beverages we know and love today,” Lavenue says.
The first version, published in 2007, received a James Beard Award for its rich dive into the life and work of Jerry Thomas, a bartender credited with popularizing cocktails in the mid-1800s. Wondrich, a writer and cocktail historian, recently updated and repackaged the book; it now has new historical findings and an expanded recipe section.
“This book will give you a great foundational knowledge from which to build on and will make every cocktail book you read afterward easier to understand," Lavenue adds.
Related: The Best Flasks
Best Coffee Table Book: Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions
One of the newest additions to the cocktail book landscape is “Cocktail Codex,” penned by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan of the Death & Co family. It's received plenty of industry accolades in its short time on the shelf: Ari Daskauskas, formerly head bartender at the beloved (and now-shuttered) Nitecap in Manhattan, calls the book essential "for bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts of all levels, whether you’re just starting out or have been behind the bar for years.”
The textbook-like guide lays out six easy templates for creating cocktails, including the Old Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Whiskey Highball, and Flip. This book is a staple for Daskauskas’ creative process. “It is my number one resource when we’re developing our menus,” he says. “The templates provided in the book help me put my ideas into an executable format.”
Related: The Best Cocktail Shakers
Best for Bar Owners: Meehan's Bartender Manual
“Meehan's Bartender Manual" is is a must-have for anyone looking to open a bar and run their own program, as well as any other industry enthusiasts, according to The Roosevelt Room's Lavenue. Written by Jim Meehan, a bartender, journalist, proprietor, and founder of NYC’s famed Please Don’t Tell, the book covers topics such as bar design and functionality, space planning, building rounds of drinks, and more.
The spirit section runs through all styles of liquors and liqueurs, including how they are distilled and where they are found. The cocktail section guides readers through the origin of each classic cocktail, the logic behind it, and 100 standard recipes (including Meehan’s favorite riffs).
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Best for Bartenders: I’m Just Here For the Drinks: a guide to spirits, drinking, and more than one hundred extraordinary cocktails
Though it was released just a few years ago, Sother Teague’s drinks compendium has become an instant classic. In it, Teague draws knowledge from his years owning the amaro mecca Amor y Amargo, his experience helming many noteworthy bars, and his deep expertise and renown—he was, after all, awarded Wine Enthusiast’s Mixologist of the Year in 2017.
Teague runs through a range of spirits and cocktail recipes with a conversational, approachable tone. His original and rejigged classic recipes range from the easy to the out-of-the-box, from milk punches to bucks to Rye Tais. He also calls on notable industry pals to contribute recipes and techniques.
Whether you’ve been bartending for ages or if you’re picking up your first shaker, you’ll take away useful information from this book.
Related: The Best Bar Tools
Best for Home: The Craft of the Cocktail
Author Dale DeGroff, known by the moniker King Cocktail, is a pioneering figure of the modern cocktail era. DeGroff’s influence on the industry has spanned decades—making him the perfect person to write “The Craft of the Cocktail,” a master class on the cocktail world. In about 240 pages, DeGroff shares techniques, more than 500 cocktail recipes, and a glossary of terms to help readers with unfamiliar drink lingo. All thoughts are pulled from either DeGroff’s experiences behind the bar or his vast library of vintage cocktail books.
This book kicks off with a history of spirits and how they’re made. He also covers the essentials of a well-stocked bar, mastering key techniques, the community of cocktail culture, and more. Still, “The Craft of the Cocktail” offers far more than just cocktail information: it also takes a 360-degree view of the industry, filled with charming tales of industry personalities every bartender should know.
Related: The Best Whiskey Stones
Best for Gifting: The Aviary Cocktail Book
“The Aviary Cocktail Book” is “the most beautiful book ever created,” according to Daniel Thomas, the bar manager of the Odysea Lounge at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. “The detail, science, and process behind creating and presenting beverages in this book is nothing short of stunning.”
These 440 glossy 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 8-pound book’s gorgeous design deserves a spot on your coffee table (and makes an excellent gift for any cocktail aficionado).
Each page features full-page color photographs balanced with insights from Grant Achatz, the acclaimed chef behind The Aviary and Alinea, as well as words from co-owner Nick Kokonas and recipes from beverage director Micah Melton. Keep in mind, though, that this book is more of a showpiece than a typical recipe book.
Best for Creatives: Liquid Intelligence: the Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail
In this boozy version of a science kit, Dave Arnold of NYC’s Existing Conditions rethinks classic cocktails and how we make them by investigating temperature, carbonation, sugar concentration, and acidity in “Liquid Intelligence.”
The first section takes readers through ideal measuring techniques and outlines Arnold’s thoughts on every cocktail ingredient and tool available, from Parisian to cobbler shakers, as well as juicers and centrifuges. The meat of the book is split up into sections covering traditional cocktails and new techniques—the former discusses ways to upgrade a traditional cocktail, while the latter tackles modern techniques (think hot pokers, nitro muddling, and more).
Though this book definitely caters to the science-minded, Arnold lays out simple (and not-so-simple) cocktail tweaks for drinkers of all degrees of bookishness.
Best Low-ABV: Session Cocktails: Low-Alcohol Drinks for Any Occasion
Over the last few years, the low-alcohol movement has stepped into the spotlight, with more and more bartenders choosing to mix up low-proof, session-able drinks. "Session Cocktails" covers the canon, leaning on bases like sherry, amaro, sake, and liqueurs to build out excellent drink recipes—as well as lower-alcohol versions of your old favorites.
Author Drew Lazor calls on an army of notable mixologists (including Dale DeGroff) to contribute low-ABV cocktails, ranging in style from brunch drinks to nightcaps. While they vary greatly in style, none of these session-able drinks will leave your head spinning. Lazor also provides tips on building out a low-ABV bar and covers the history of low-proof drinks.
Related: Low-ABV Beers to Try
Best Zero-Proof/Non-Alcohol: Good Drinks
Non-alcoholic drinks are increasingly becoming part of the cocktail conversation, with interesting zero-proof options becoming a mainstay in bars across the country, and abstaining becoming more and more frequent. One of the first tomes on the N.A. category was launched in late 2020, penned by a former Bon Appétit editor and James Beard Award nominee.
To write it, author Julia Bainbridge heads out on a road trip across the country, trying every non-alcoholic option in bars along the way to answer the question, “can you make an outstanding nonalcoholic drink?”
She’s compiled a whole compendium of answers to the question, all that lead to a resounding yes. She lays out her own recipes and sources some from bartenders across the country, from a Chicha Morada Agua Fresca to a Salted Rosemary Paloma.
Best Green/Sustainable: A Good Drink
Over her years behind the stick, Shanna Farrell began to ask questions about what she was pouring. If we’re careful about where our food comes from, why aren’t we looking into where our drinks are coming from?
She embarked on a journey to understand sustainability through the lens of the drinks industry, trotting the globe to chat with mezcaleros in Jalisco preserving traditional methods and whiskey distilleries in the Southern US addressing ecology on a large scale. All her findings are cataloged through the narrative of her just-launched book: each chapter is dedicated to a different category of spirits, including gin, vodka, and brandy, plus plenty of stories of bartenders pushing the sustainability narrative forward.
No cocktail book library is complete without either gaz Regan’s “Joy of Mixology” (view at Amazon) or Sother Teague’s “I'm Just Here for the Drinks” (view at Amazon). But if you’re looking to dig into the cocktail fascination on a nerdier level, consider “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails” (view at Amazon) or Dave Arnold’s “Liquid Intelligence” (view at Amazon).
Why Trust Liquor.com?
This roundup was edited by Jesse Porter, whose lifelong quest to make every recipe in his collection of cocktail books becomes increasingly challenging every time somebody gifts him a new one.
Kate Dingwall is an experienced spirits writer and glassware collector. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years, from the best glassware to the most spirited tomes.