Sure, you may enjoy a good Negroni or a classic Old Fashioned, but if you don’t know how to stir up these concoctions yourself, can you really call yourself a cocktail lover? We’d argue no. After all, being able to mix a few drinks is not only a sign of sophistication, but also the mark of a good host. (On that topic, we’d suggest you create your own signature house cocktail.) If the thought of making anything more complicated than a gin & tonic has you feeling overwhelmed, fear not: There’s a world of marvellous cocktail books out there to help you take your mixology game to the next level. Whether you’re looking to learn the fundamentals or add some new drink recipes to your repertoire, these 10 books will have you shaking and stirring in no time at all.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler — renowned cocktail blogger and manager of Clyde Common — opted for a slightly different approach when he authored The Bar Book, a weighty tome that professes to be “the only technique-driven cocktail handbook out there”. The book’s relatively spartan offering of 60 recipes is dwarfed by an exhaustive exploration of best bartending practices. Whole sections are individually dedicated to what Morgenthaler sees as essential techniques, including juicing, garnishing, carbonating and proper shaking method. Given the book’s fixation on applied learning, The Bar Book is also accompanied by an exhaustive amount of photography — aimed at eliminating any guesswork that might be involved.
Hardcover, 288 pages, available on Amazon for US$22.50
From David Kaplan comes this authoritative reference on “modern classic” cocktails, named for the Death & Co founder’s wildly successful New York City institution. Detailing over 500 recipes — including now-iconic concoctions like the Oaxaca Old Fashioned — Death & Co goes beyond mere recitation, instructing cocktail lovers on any number of mixology-related activities. The book propounds Kaplan’s philosophy behind drink making, offers valuable insight into how to buy spirits and, best of all, teaches key bartending techniques that dovetail nicely with the included recipes.
Hardcover, 320 pages, available on Amazon for US$23.22
This elegiac and understated book is the sole cocktail reference by Sasha Petraske — forerunner of America’s speakeasy revival — released posthumously, following his untimely death in 2015. As far as first-and-last authoring efforts go, this one is impressive: Regarding Cocktails utilises an elegant framing device, in which all 85 recipes are (largely) categorised into five of Petraske’s favourite classic styles: the Old Fashioned, Martini, Manhattan, Sour and Highball. Publisher Phaidon has released a product that is every bit as sumptuous as you’d expect — the line drawings suggesting ideal mixing ratios are particularly clever — and Petraske’s work may be among the few examples out there to include a compelling treatise on mocktails.
Hardcover, 256 pages, available on Phaidon for (approx.) US$26.40
Often billed as The Joy of Cooking for mixologists, DeGroff’s 500-recipe tome is an ambitious project that attempts to cover every subject under the sun. From starting one’s own bar to mastering the use of fresh juices, The Craft of the Cocktail leaves no stone unturned. There isn’t any particular geographic or historical focus in the book, though IBA-listed recipes and old hotel standards frequently rear their heads. If there’s any significant oversight it’s that, given the breadth of drinking-related topics canvassed herein, The Craft of the Cocktail is in desperate need of an index.
Hardcover, 240 pages, available on Amazon for US$26.33
Since 2000, liquor journalist Robert Simonson has covered all things mixology for the New York Times. In September 2017, his work culminated in the release of 3-Ingredient Cocktails — his blissfully succinct roundup of “the greatest drinks of all time…all of which conveniently feature only three ingredients”. Perhaps signalling what lies ahead for bartending culture in 2018, Simonson propounds a list of both contemporary (the Red Hook) and classic (Harvey Wallbanger) tipples which are easy to make anywhere at any time, and which dispense with absurd herbs and spices in favour of simplicity.
Hardcover, 176 pages, available on Penguin Random House for US$12.91
The creative impetus behind the Solmonson couple’s book was simple: a collection of 200 tried-and-true cocktail recipes that could be made using just 12 bottles (widely available for retail purchase). The result may prove somewhat surprising to readers, as The 12 Bottle Bar omits certain popular liquors (e.g. tequila and brandy) entirely while offering up amusing anecdotes about punchbowls, Tom Cruise and the hit TV show Cheers. Nevertheless, this is an invaluable resource to have, particularly for urban dwellers looking to get the most mileage out of a small space and cost-conscious bar.
Paperback, 416 pages, available from Amazon for US$10.98
In the tradition of deeply personal, travelogue-tinged writing (popularised by chefs like Anthony Bourdain) Boozehound documents raconteur Jason Wilson’s exploration of bold, coloured, oftentimes obscure liquors. Vehemently opposed to bland spirits (what he dubs the “flavoured vodkas” of the world), this collection of essays and reportage — taking Wilson everywhere from agave fields in Jalisco, Mexico, to the surprisingly complacent Ritz Bar — bristles with the kind of salty wit that’s usually missing from your average cocktail instructional. Still, there are over 50 recipes in here that are worth trying your hand at, but it’s Wilson’s prose that makes that prospect seem so exciting.
Hardcover, 240 pages, available on Amazon for US$14.38
This magnum opus from bartender Jim Meehan — founder of the original PDT that set up permanent shop in Hong Kong earlier this year — reads like the world’s most interesting doctoral thesis on mixology. Meehan’s Bartender Manual is unrivalled in its scope, going well beyond recipes for an all-in look at microcosmic details (e.g., the optimal dimensions for a good barstool) and the historical context behind various cocktail styles (e.g. tiki, prohibition, and punch, to name a few).
Hardcover, 488 pages, available on Amazon for US$22.36
Before sous vide, liquid nitrogen and the advent of cocktail chemistry, there were hotel cocktails: strong, boozy, conceptually simplistic beverages elevated by execution and setting. Any discussion of these creations inevitably involves a mention of Harry Craddock, the American barman who joined the Savoy Hotel in 1920 and went on to author The Savoy Cocktail Book. A good number of the classic cocktails we know and love today can be traced back to this venerable tome, including such eternal favourites as the Corpse Reviver #2 and White Lady. The current edition faithfully duplicates Craddock’s writings from the 1930s, but adds in some lavish, Art Deco-inspired illustrations.
Hardcover, 292 pages, available from Amazon for US$19.95
From the obsessive mind behind diffordsguide.com comes the Encyclopedia of Cocktails, a nearly 500-page volume detailing over 2,000 cocktail recipes ranging from the “Disgusting” to the “Outstanding”. Difford’s text is an exhaustive and utilitarian look at cocktails, featuring alphabetically arranged recipes and an index of key ingredients. Supplementing that, readers will find recommendations for a variety of glassware and equipment, in addition to a list of the author’s top 100 cocktail bars worldwide.
Hardcover, 492 pages, available from the Difford’s Guide website for (approx.) US$27.21