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Whether you have spent years behind a bar 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, 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.
Here, their picks of the best cocktail books to help you start your boozy bookshelf.
Best Overall: The Joy of Mixology
Gary Regan’s "Joy of Mixology" is brilliant, 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, co-author of “Cocktail Codex.” He adds, “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."
Day, who first read the book as a 22-year-old barback, adds, "It contributed massively to my deep dive into the industry and was, without question, a foundation of inspiration for ‘Cocktail Codex.’”
Best for Beginners: 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 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 History: Imbibe!
We asked Justin Lavenue, owner of The Roosevelt Room, one of Austin’s top cocktail bars, his go-to cocktail book. His glowing recommendation: “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.
Lavenue adds, “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.”
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Best Coffee Table Book: 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. Ari Daskauskas, Nitecap’s head bartender, swears by how essential the book is "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 No. 1 resource when we’re developing our menus,” he says. “The templates provided in the book help me put my ideas into an executable format.”
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Best for Bar Owners: Meehan's Bartender Manual
“Meehan's Bartender Manual" is is a must-have for both those looking to open a bar and run their own program and 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 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.
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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 cocktail aficionados).
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 Classic: 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 No. 5 in the world. One of its famous faces was "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).
Gaz 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 for Creatives: Liquid Intelligence
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 woos the science-minded, Arnold lays out simple (and not so simple) cocktail tweaks for drinkers of all levels.
Best for Bartenders: I’m Just Here For the Drinks
Though it was released just a few years ago, Sother Teague’s drinks compendium is 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—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.
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Best New: The Infused Cocktail Handbook
Infused spirits are an excellent way to upgrade your cocktail-making regimen and add more nuanced layers of flavor to a drink. While other books touch on infusions, "The Infused Cocktail Handbook," written by Kurt Maitland, dives deep into the world of infusions: It covers how to integrate flavors into vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, rum and sherry via beautifully illustrated pages.
Maitland covers every infusion possible, from more traditional infusions to wilder, impress-your-guests infusions—think gummy bears, bacon, lemongrass, walnuts and cardamom. While it sounds complicated, Maitland’s book proves that, with a little guidance, infusing spirits is a cakewalk.
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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 worth making, you’ll enjoy perusing the pages just as much.
The book covers gin, whiskey, Scotch, brandy and rye, though some of the ingredients are quite tough to source. That said, it’s still a great read for any level of drink maker.
Best Low-Alcohol: 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, sessionable 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. None of these sessionable drinks will leave your head spinning.
The book is also a great manual on how to make less alcoholic drinks that don’t lack flavor. 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
No cocktail book library is complete without either gaz Regan’s “Joy of Mixology” (view at Amazon) or Sother Teagu’s “I'm Just Here for the Drinks” (view at Amazon). But if you’re looking to dig deeper into the cocktail world, consider “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails” (view at Amazon) or Dave Arnold’s “Liquid Intelligence” (view at Amazon).
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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.