Top Shelf Boozy Library Essentials
Noteworthy 2018 releases and timeless reads to drink in.
A scant fifteen years ago, books on bartending were hard to find. The good ones were found in private collections or second-hand bookstores. There were still a few bastions of cocktail wisdom on the shelves, courtesy of books published by Mr. Boston and a handful of others, but the pickings were slim.
The dawn of the twenty-first century saw a trickle of new cocktail books that soon became a flood. Much like the spirits behind the bar, bookshelves started to overflow with all the books that became available to eager new bartenders. With so many books out on the shelves, it can be difficult to find the right ones to add to your bookshelf. Or buy as a gift for someone else’s.
Fortunately, you are in luck. We have been combing through the books that have been published over the last few decades and made selections that would be great additions to any bartender’s bookshelf. These are not all books about how to make a flavorful libation; many explore the history of spirits and other alcoholic libations, hospitality, techniques, and everything else that makes a well-crafted cocktail more than just refreshing liquid in a glass. Being a bartender is more than just tattoos and jaunty caps.
I’ve broken them down into a few categories, but let’s start with four that every bartender should have on hand.
Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide 1862 Reprint: How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant's Companion, Jerry Thomas: The one that started it all. Every bartender needs this book for their shelf, if for no other reason than to understand just how far the craft has come. Professor Thomas is a legend for a reason.
The Savoy Cocktail Book, Harry Craddock: Leaving America because of Prohibition, Harry’s time at the Savoy in London was filled with experimentation. These experiments led to cocktails that have stood the test of time, revived during the rebirth of the craft cocktail.
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury: Bartending from Prohibition to post World War II, Embury has cocktail wisdom to spare. This book gathers all this wisdom into one place, wittily delivering what is needed to make your best cocktails.
The Ideal Bartender, Tom Bullock: A trailblazer in many respects, not only was he one of the first African American bartenders to gain recognition, he was known to be one of the best hosts in the South, and reveals his time-tested techniques in his book.
Essential Neo Classics - Cocktails and Culture
Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan: A must have for any serious student of bartending. This year, Gaz Regan updated his dissection of the world of cocktails, organizing them into easy to understand families and categories.
Imbibe, David Wondrich: One modern classic no bartender should be without. Filled with details on classic cocktails, ingredients and recipes of vintage drinks. This is a great book to bridge the gap between classic and modern cocktails.
Craft of the Cocktail, Dale DeGroff: An essential from a master in the industry. Though there is a reprint in the works for 2020, the amount of use you would get in the interim would be impressive. Hundreds of cocktails, as well as options for home entertainment and stories on how we got to a cocktail revolution.
The American Bar, Charles Schumann: Reprinted this year, this 1995 classic delivers hundreds of familiar cocktail recipes every bartender should know. This book is not just full of recipes, but stories and other industry wisdom.
Shaken Not Stirred (reprinted in 2013), Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller: The martini is THE iconic cocktail. This recent exploration of the cocktail, explores all its varieties and proportions from diligent research far beyond anything that can be found online.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, Ted Haigh: There is more to cocktails than the liquids in the glass. Every cocktail has a story, and this book by Dr. Cocktail tells some of the best ones.
The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, Frank Caiafa: Though this update of the companion to one of the most classic New York City hotel bars is fairly new, it already belongs on a “classic” list. That’s because the information within—hundreds of painstakingly researched recipes and updates—is so timeless and useful, it deserves repeated readings. The bar it’s based on may be indefinitely shuttered, but its valuable legacy continues through these pages.
Essential Neo Classics - Spirited Wisdom
And a Bottle of Rum, Wayne Curtis revised (2018): Rum is a complicated spirit with a fascinating history. This refreshed book explores the history of the spirit, from its rough Caribbean beginnings to the refined product we enjoy today.
Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails, Tony Abou-Ganim and Elizabeth Faulkner: One of the more versatile, (and least loved) spirits is more complicated than you may think. This deep dive into vodka is a must to understand the complexities of this simple liquor.
The Flavor Bible, Karen Page and Drew Dornenburg: Every bartender is looking for something new to make for friends or customers. This James Beard-award winning book gives flavor pairings for many foods, from achiote (annatto) seeds to zucchini blossoms.
The Drunken Botanist , Amy Stewart: All things alcoholic, from simple spirits to complex amari, come from plants. This book does a deep dive into a wide variety of plants and how they have impacted the spirit world.
The Complete Beer Course , Joshua M. Bernstein: Style is not just for fashion. Bernstein has created an amazing, well-researched book that describes the wide variety of styles in the craft beer world. Each chapter offers a few helpful suggestions of beers that best represent that style.
Beer School: A Crash Course in Craft Beer , Johnny Garrett and Brad Evans: Beyond the art of crafting beer is the science of it. The guys at The Craft Beer Channel put together a book to take you through the ingredients and techniques to jump right into the craft beer scene.
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas, Brad Thomas Parsons: There was a time that the only reason a bartender reached for a bottle of bitters was to dust it. Now every bar has a wide range of these powerful, flavorful liquids. There are recipes to make your own as well as some great history about where they came from.
The Drinkable Globe, Jeff Cioletti: A culture’s relationship to alcohol varies regionally, and this book explores 11 vastly different cultures around the world. The book makes for an excellent accompaniment to Cioletti’s podcast by the same name.
Essential New Books - Drinking in History
The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg: Getting together for a drink, whether a coffee or a cocktail, is a time-honored tradition. The public spaces where these gatherings happen have their own unique place in culture, and this book explores the psychological reasons we all need a local.
Glass and Gavel: The U.S. Supreme Court and Alcohol, Nancy Maveety: If you think flavor trends and weather are the only things that affect what you drink, think again. Laws, and how they are interpreted, can have a major impact on who is drinking what, and why.
A Drinkable Feast, Philip Greene: Paris during Prohibition was filled with the who’s who of public life. They were all enjoying the fine cocktails made by the American bartenders there. This exploration of that time, complete with recipes and stories, provides insight into the rich cocktail culture outside of America.
Bars, Taverns and Dives New Yorkers Love , John Tebeau: Sure, you can hit up Bemelmans or Death and Company when you visit New York City and fight through the tourists. Or you can use this book to find some of the best lesser known neighborhood watering holes in the Big Apple.
Drinking Like Ladies: 75 Modern Cocktails from the World’s Leading Female Bartenders, Misty Kalkoffen and Kirsten Amann: The title is deliberately confrontational (in a good way), dispelling the notion of the insipid “lady drink” and presenting fabulous recipes by top notch bartenders from around the globe. The recipes each pair with stories about empowered, creative women throughout history.
Cocktails and Capers: Cult Cinema, Cocktails, Crime and Cool by Keith Allison: Classic movies and cocktails go hand in hand, and here, Allison explores that relationship from Nick and Nora Charles to James Bond and many cult hits before and in between. Several of the book’s essays are reprints of time honored Alcohol Professor articles, but with extras such as additional recipes and even playlists. If you love movies and cocktails (and Sinatra!), you need this book.
Essential New Books - Cocktails and Spirits
Nightcap, Kara Newman: Cocktails are not only a good way to start the night, they are sometimes the best way to end it. This book focuses on the art of the last drink, whether it is the end of a delicious meal or something to help you drift to sleep.
Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual, Sean Muldoon, Ben Schaffer, Jack McGarry: The cocktails in this book are next level. But the philosophies behind the drinks, the techniques shared, and stories make this a great book for any shelf.
Prosecco Made Me Do It, Amy Zavatto: Who doesn’t love a bubbly cocktail (besides people who don’t like fun)? This convivial book explores the beauty of Italy’s most well known national sparkling wine, and its versatility with so many ingredients.
Beachbum Berry’s Surfin' Safari - 10th Anniversary Edition, Jeff Berry: This update includes 14 never see recipes, expanded tiki history, and completely redesigned graphics. Coming from one of the original tiki cocktail icons, how could you resist? (You can read our 2017 interview with him here.)
Gin: Essential Guide for Gin Aficionados, Geraldine Coates: Gin has a reputation. One that it has been trying to work off for over a decade. By demystifying gin and showing how versatile it can be, Geraldine demonstrates what you can do with this classic spirit.
Single Malt, Clay Risen: Scotch has a rich and amazing history. Delving into it as he has done with bourbon, Clay lays out the many varieties of Scotch that are available, following their journey from harvest to barrel to bottle.
The Way of Whisky, Dave Broom: Japanese whisky, once a high quality, obscure treat has become one of the most sought after spirits. Dave Broom shares his exploration of the country’s distilleries, the whiskies they produce, and the culture that defines them.
Hacking Whiskey, Aaron Goldfarb: Do you think adding ice to whiskey is a sin? What about smoke, the flavor of bone marrow, and other unusual combinations? Speaking with a variety of experts, Aaron shows whiskey lovers just how far the boundaries can be pushed.
Essential New Books - Beyond the Cocktails
Northern Hospitality, Andrew and Briana Volk: The Volks have turned their Portland. ME bar into a haven for well-crafted cocktails and incredible food. This book delivers insights into how they brought Scandinavian fare and culture to New England.
I'm Just Here For the Drinks, Sother Teague: Since his days with Good Eats, Sother Teague has been sharing his wisdom about cocktails. Especially amari. This book puts those years of wisdom in one place, with stories about the industry and plenty of recipes. (You can read our interview with him here.)
Be Your Own Bartender, Carey Jones and John McCarthy: Remember Choose Your Own Adventure Books? Now picture it illustrated, and at the end, you get a cocktail. Follow your own path in flow chart form for what you want to drink and discover a variety of new cocktails to enjoy.
The Bar Book, Jeffrey Morgenthaler: Many bartending books focus on the spirits and recipes. This one focuses on the techniques and equipment to make the best cocktails you can. With some recipes thrown in to practice on.
Liquid Intelligence, David Arnold: Like all creative endeavors, there is a science to a great cocktail. David and his team put in years of study, developing cocktails with just the right balance of sweetness, acidity, and spirit to please the palate.
Books, and the secrets they hold, are important tools in a bartenders repertoire. Two or three of these titles alone have the possibility to change the way you look at how flavors come together, how to serve a drink, and what techniques can add those subtle differences distinguishing the good drinks from the exquisite sips. With the exploration of each book comes the benefit of experiencing some delicious drinks. They are gifts that will give all through the year.