Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

3 Timeless Holiday Cocktail Books Every Bartender Needs to Read

Deck the halls with these cocktail book neo-classics.

Photo composite of three timeless holiday books stacked on a vertical diagonal against a background of pine branches
Image: / Laura Sant

The best bartenders are also often bookworms, constantly researching the latest tastes and trends. But with so many new titles to choose from, it’s easy to wind up lost in a sea of stale prose and sloppy recipes. We’ve paged through the stack to give you the most essential booze books to read throughout the holidays.

Happy alco-holidays! When it comes to drinks, nothing sells quite like the spirit of the season. Historically, publishers have picked the thirstiest time of year to push out a mountain of new cocktail tomes, and 2019 is no exception. These three noteworthy titles each have a distinct point of view and plenty of options for liquid cheer. To help you decide which to gift—or better yet, keep for yourself—we’ve highlighted a pro batching tip, as well as a killer Eggnog recipe, for each book.

  • “The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails”

    The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails cover featuring a red-to-white gradient background and a bottle of sparkling wine being poured from the top of the cover into a barrel-esque punch bowl with five orange zest-garnished glasses attached / Laura Sant

    Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas, Allen & Sarah Hemberger and Micah Melton (The Alinea Group, $25)

    A self-published follow-up from the team behind “The Aviary Cocktail Book,” this is the most earnest and serious-minded of the three. Since the inaugural book focused on The Aviary’s baroque, ambitious drinks, Nick Kokonas addresses the elephant in the room in the first sentence of the introduction: “How many of these drinks can I actually make?” He rightly notes that the recipes are for those who “want a bit of ‘wow’ in your life.” In other words, they’re accessible but will take a few extra steps. The slim soft-backed book feels like a thick magazine filled with cozy photos that make you want to burrow inside the pages and drink Parsnip Flips all winter long.

    The batch: How far ahead can you batch a drink? That depends on what’s in it, according to The Aviary’s team. “A batch comprising mostly bottled spirits can be made a day or more before it’s consumed, whereas something using fresh juices can oxidize and lose its luster within an hour or two.” A good rule of thumb: Any batched drink that includes citrus is best consumed the same day it’s made.

    The nog: Coquito, aka Puerto Rican Eggnog, starts with oven-toasted coconut flakes (later sous-vided into a spiced rum enhanced with additional spices) and finishes with a house-made rum-based coconut spray.

  • “Gather Around Cocktails: Drinks to Celebrate Usual and Unusual Holidays”

    Gather Around Cocktails cover featuring a white background with scattered gold glitter, a punch bowl, a plate of lemon twists, a bow tie, a Champagne cork and cage, and three coupe glasses / Laura Sant

    Aaron Goldfarb (Dovetail Press, $20)

    Drinks writer Aaron Goldfarb, the author of the irreverent “Hacking Whiskey,” applies his snarky wit to year-round gatherings and not just the festive kind; it’s one of the few cocktail books that comes in handy come January 1. But for the big-ticket holiday inspiration, look for drinks like the Pine Needle Punch (gin plus a syrup brewed from needles plucked from your Christmas tree) or Jelly Doughnut Beertail (a scotch-based, Hanukkah-themed drink). With cheeky drink names and unusual presentation, such as drinks served in flower pots, this book does its best to channel fun.

    The batch: Begin prepping a few days in advance. “A willingness to devote a little time to the cause” is important, says Goldfarb. But by making a punch or other large-format drink ahead of time, “you won’t have to make anything else during the party and can actually enjoy yourself like any other party guest.”

    The nog: More like nogs, plural. Goldfarb is a ringer in this department, as he throws an annual Eggnog Social, he says. Unsurprisingly, his book includes several riffs on the classic, including nogs from other countries that can start with a single core Eggnog base (think Venezuela’s Rompope or South Africa’s Melktertjies), as well as more out-there versions like the Eggless Avocado Nog.

  • “Let’s Get Blitzen: 60+ Christmas Cocktails to Make Your Spirits Bright”

    Let's Get Blitzen cover featuring a flat light blue background, red ornaments, white snowflakes, a red outline of Santa Claus holding a drink in one hand and a glass in the other, and retro red and white font / Laura Sant

    Sother Teague (Topix Media, $16)

    Sother Teague, the beverage director of New York City’s Amor y Amargo, offers this casual stocking-stuffer-size paperback. If you’re shopping for friends who celebrate other holidays, be warned: This is full-on Xmas, not a more general holiday collection. That said, this wry, funny book is packed full of useful tips and Christmas pop culture references, quotes and trivia. The goal is to “deck the halls, not your in-laws,” with the help of classic and contemporary cocktails. Crowd-pleasers include a Baked Apple Toddy and Scrooge-Driver (a Screwdriver with freshly squeezed O.J.).

    The batch: Teague recommends mixing ruby-hued Poinsettias by the pitcherful: a six-to-one ratio of cranberry juice to triple sec, refrigerated overnight. When ready to serve, pour the mix into Champagne glasses, topping each with sparkling wine.

    The nog: In a double-dare-you style, give Teague’s signature Aged Eggnog a whirl if you’re feeling lucky.