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The 11 Best Cocktail Books of 2020, According to Experts

Brush up on your knowledge with these spirited titles.

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Whether you’ve spent years behind a bar or you 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, breezy recipe guides, and stunning coffee table books. There are also books that focus on one type of spirit, as well as ones on the ins and outs of distilling. Not sure where to start? We recruited top bartenders and bar owners to help gather the towering titles of the cocktail world. Below are the best cocktail books to start your boozy bookshelf.

Best Overall: The Joy of Mixology

The Joy of Mixology

“Gary Regan’s ‘Joy of Mixology’ is one of those brilliant works that is timeless in a way that many of us aspire to, but ultimately will never succeed,” explains Alex Day, co-owner of the acclaimed Death & Co and Proprietors LLC and co-author of “Cocktail Codex.” “It is wonderfully written and full of insights that blow my mind to this day.” 

Published in 2003 and updated in 2019, “Joy of Mixology” is 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 bridged the gap between fundamentally changing how we talk about cocktails—of 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,” he says. “Try not to laugh, I dare you. “

Day, who first read the book as a 22-year-old barback, adds, “It showed me that cocktails could be more than just getting tipsy—that there was thought, history, and most importantly, people behind each and everyone.” He continues, “It contributed massively to my deep-dive into the industry and was, without question, a foundation of inspiration for ‘Cocktail Codex.’”

Read next: The Best Cocktail Shakers, According to Experts

Best for Beginners: The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist

The New York Times-bestselling book “The Drunken Botanist” is a manual to 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, part mixology—she weaves readers through each spirit in an easy, humorous writing style, breaking up stories with simple, accessible cocktail recipes.

Best History: Imbibe!

Imbibe!

When asked what his go-to book is, Justin Lavenue, owner of The Roosevelt Room, one of Austin’s top cocktail bars, highly recommends “Imbibe!” by David Wondrich. “Dave has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of cocktails and spirits, and his book is a great resource for readers to discover the origins of many of the beverages we know and love today.”

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, adding new historical findings and expanding the recipe section for today’s bartender. 

“I always say that, in order to truly appreciate the current state of the cocktail industry and the craft of bartending, you have to know how far we've come,” adds Lavenue. “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 in the grand scheme of things.”

Read next: The Best Flasks

Best New: Cocktail Codex

Cocktail Codex

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. “‘Cocktail Codex’ is an essential book,” promises Ari Daskauskas, Nitecap’s head bartender. “It is useful 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. All in all, this book is a staple for Daskauskas’ creative process. “It is my number one resource when we’re developing our menus at Nitecap,” he says. “The templates provided in the book help me put my ideas into an executable format.”

Best for Bar Owners: Meehan's Bartender Manual

Meehan's Bartender Manual

Amazon

“Meehan's Bartender Manual,” Lavenue explains, “is a paragon of how some of the best bar operators think.” Written by Jim Meehan, a bartender, journalist, proprietor, and founder of NYC’s famed Please Don’t Tell, the book “includes chapters dedicated to such topics as bar design and functionality, space planning, efficiently building rounds of drinks, and much more,” says Lavenue. As such, this book is a must-have for those looking to open a bar and run their own beverage program, but all industry enthusiasts can also learn from the spirits and cocktail section.

The spirit section runs through all styles of liquors and liqueurs, including how they are distilled, where they are found, and common label terminology. The cocktail section guides readers through the origin of each classic cocktail, the logic behind it, and a standard recipe for each (with 100 recipes total, including Meehan’s favorite riffs). 

Throughout the book, Meehan calls on fellow industry luminaries (including Existing Conditions’ Don Lee, Havana Club’s Rasmus Lomborg, and cocktail historian David Wondrich) to offer advice for readers.

Read next: The Best Bar Carts

Best for Mixologists: The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

Amazon

“One of my favorite books for cocktails is actually not a cocktail book at all,” says Nate Fishman, bartender at Liquor Lab. “It’s ‘The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.’” Author Karen Page’s book is less of a recipe book and more of an ingredient encyclopedia: flip through the hundreds of listed ingredients, be it spices, fruits, seeds, or vegetables, and she will direct readers to what flavors pair best. “This book tells you more about ingredients and pairings than any other,” Fishman says. 

Though the book is made with cooks in mind, it’s an excellent resource for bartenders who are experimenting with new flavors—it can spark ideas on what ingredients to add to a work-in-progress cocktail. Experimenting with apples? Page will suggest dozens of ingredients, including fennel, cranberry, ginger, sage, and more. “If I am trying to make a cocktail with a fresh, new, and unfamiliar ingredient, this book helps me understand the ingredient better and prepare a more well-rounded cocktail,” explains Fishman.

Best for Home: The Craft of the Cocktail

The Craft of the Cocktail

Author Dale DeGroff, best known by the moniker “King Cocktail,” is a mentor to a generation of bartenders. 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 over 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 the history of spirits and how they’re made. He also covers the essentials of a well-stocked bar, choosing the right tools and ingredients, mastering key techniques, the development of the mixed drink, and the community of cocktail culture. Still, “The Craft of the Cocktail” offers far more than just cocktail information. It also takes on a 360-degree view of the industry, filled with anecdotes and charming tales of industry personalities every bartender should know.

Read next: The Best Whiskey Stones

Best for Gifting: The Aviary Cocktail Book

The Aviary Cocktail Book

Amazon

“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.”

From the team behind high-concept cocktail bar The Aviary, the beverage-focused little sister of three Michelin-starred Alinea, comes 440 glossy pages of recipes and techniques. This isn’t a book to stash behind your bar: measuring 12 x 10 x 2 inches and weighing 8 pounds, the book’s gorgeous design deserves a spot on your coffee table (and makes an excellent gift for cocktail aficionados). 

Flip each page and find full-page color photographs, balanced with insights from Grant Achatz, the acclaimed chef behind The Aviary and Alinea, words from co-owner Nick Kokonas, and recipes from Beverage Director Micah Melton. Though, keep in mind that this book is more of a showpiece than a usable recipe book unless you have access to the modern and molecular technology of a modern cocktail bar.

Best Classic: The Savoy Cocktail Book

The Savoy Cocktail Book

Since London’s The Savoy first opened the American Bar in 1889, the hotel’s watering hole has been a mecca for cocktail lovers—even today, the bar ranks at number five in the world. One of the bar’s most famous faces was Harry Craddock, who manned the bar in the 1920s and invented a range of classic cocktails including the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

 Craddock’s recipes are largely considered the gold standard for today’s cocktails—Gaz Regan once dubbed them “the 20th century’s most important tome of its kind.” In “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” 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 still captures the mood of the era. The book is filled with full-color illustrations of Art Deco cocktails and 1920s imbibers smoking, drinking, eating, and dancing in the famed bar. Even the language is of the times—at one point, Craddock declares the Corpse Reviver No. 1 to “be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.”

Read next: The Best Corkscrews, According to Experts

Best for Creatives: Liquid Intelligence

Liquid Intelligence

In this boozy version of a science kit, Dave Arnold, behind NYC’s Existing Conditions, rethinks and recalibrates classic cocktails and how we make them by investigating temperature, carbonation, sugar concentration, and acidity in “Liquid Intelligence.”

The book is broken down into four sections: 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, juicers for every kind of citrus, and centrifuges. The meat of the book is split up into “Traditional Cocktails” and “New Techniques and Ideas”—the former discusses how to upgrade a traditional cocktail (think ice, booze, and mixer) through creating clear ice, attaining optimal sweetness, and adding salt to cocktails. The latter tackles modern techniques of the industry: think hot pokers, nitro muddling, fat washing, and carbonation. Though this book definitely woos the science-minded bartenders, Arnold lays out simple (and not so simple) cocktail tweaks for drinkers of all levels.

Best for Bartenders: Amaro

Amaro

Think of this as a bible for amaro-lovers. Written by James Beard award-winning writer Brad Thomas Parsons, “Amaro” dives deep into the centuries-old traditions of digestifs. A staple of cocktail menus, Amaro can be found in Aperol Spritz, Americano, and Paper Planes. Amari can vary in flavors from bright and easy-going (like the orange-heavy Aperol) to bracingly menthol (Fernet-Branca and Branca Menta lead that category). This book runs the gamut, demystifying the broad category for home enthusiasts and bar professionals alike. Parsons provides more than 100 recipes (both for cocktails and food) and dives into the flavor profiles and histories of each amaro.

 “I love incorporating amaros into my cocktails because they can get your appetite going or settle your stomach after a big meal,” explains Lindsay Whalen, bartender at the Hilton Nashville Green Hills, who touts the book as one of her favorites. “The amazing herbal spirits are crucial to enhancing a dining experience,” she says. “I enjoy educating my guests on a wide range of flavor profiles.”

Read next: The Best Shot Glasses

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