The Top Twenty Cocktail Books

Words by: Ian Cameron

10:43 GMT // 19 Dec 2012

How many of these bad boys (and yes, there are no girls here) have you read? We had a straw poll among the CLASS staff for the 'must-haves' that your bookshelves should be groaning under the weight of - and figured that you might be interested in the list we came up with. They're listed in order of their publication date. Let us know what you think.

1. diffordsguide Cocktails (2000 to present), by Simon Difford


A shameless plug, but this is still the ultimate bartender's bible with a 3000-strong collection of cocktails, each with a succinct comment, a colour photo and a score out of five. Click here to buy.

2. How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant's Companion (1862) by Jerry Thomas


The original and arguably the best, the Professor laid it all down for us to rediscover, was a founding father of flair bartending, a blinged-up showman who set the benchmark for theatricality, and gave us the basis for a whole industry, from the Blue Blazer to RTDs.

3. The Bartender's Manual (1882), by Harry Johnson


Arguably the first place where the word Martini appeared in print, Johnson claimed his original version pre-dated Jerry Thomas's publication by two years, and even claimed its print run went to 10,000 copies. Sadly, it was never found. Never mind, the 1882 'New and Improved' edition of his manual, entitled 'How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style', is required reading with genuinely practical tips for serving drinks and running a bar - many still apply today. Some fine facial hair too, that Mr Johnson.

4. The Flowing Bowl (1891) William Schmidt


Set down in print after 30 years of bartending, 'The Only William' believed in temperance - or rather 'moderation' rather than total abstinence. Habitual drinkers, he said, lacked the ability to taste artistically created concoctions. It takes the form of an elementary guide to science, history and anthropology before it even gets to the recipes (more than 500 of them). 'What to Drink and When', his subtitle, is spookily close to CLASS's own 'What to Drink and Where to Drink it'.

5. Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), by Harry Craddock


America's loss during Prohibition was London's gain, and taught us that the way to drink a cocktail was quickly, while it's still laughing at you. He also buried cocktails and put the American Bar on the map. It reads more like a list than other books, so less one to tuck into bed with but undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with.

6. Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book (1931), by A.S. Crockett


Journalist and cultural historian Albert Stevens Crockett recorded the classic, old school cocktails of American bartending, with drinks based largely around vermouth and bitters.

7. The Cafe Royal Cocktail Book (1937), by W. J Tarling


Published by the UKBG, our Bill was one of its council members (to president Harry Craddock). Again, more of a list of cocktails than readable prose, but a definitive list at that, and one that acts as a snapshot - or distillation - of the previous half century's best drinks.

8. Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World (1939) by Charles Henry Baker


This is the tale of one man's globetrotting adventures cataloguing the concoctions he encountered. Not a bartender, but nevertheless setting the rules for balanced cocktails, and ever ready with a good story.

9. The Stork Club Bar Book (1946), by Lucius Beebe


Drama queen and dandy Lucius was a playboy and wit, a writer and a bon vivant, and he left us with the concept of 'Morning Cocktails'. What's not to like? A fabulous way with words, our Lucius was a worthy ambassador of alcohol.

10. Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide (1947), by Victor Bergeron


Donn Beach never put pen to paper, so Trader Vic's legacy is arguably stronger, and put tiki on the map with 1500 recipes, dedicated to 'sweet ladies, gay lotharios and lunkhead bartenders'. Did he invent the Mai Tai? That one's going to run and run. Good bar etiquette advice too, whatever side of the counter you're on.

11. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), by David Embury


Basic bar principles, an early attempt at definitive recipes for key cocktail formulas/families and distinguished by a conversational prose style, Embury was never actually a bartender, he was a lawyer. Who cares? Essential reading for its mixture of delightful prose with encyclopaedic qualities.

12. Esquire Handbook for Hosts (1949)


Setting the tone for home bartending (and for Esquire magazine's devotion to mixed drinks, embodied by Dave Wondrich today), this guide to gadgets and drinks recipes reads like the pre-treatment script for Mad Men. We can just see Don Draper with it.

13. American Bar (1995), by Charles Schumann


"500 recipes are more than sufficient," intones Charles in his suitably Germanic introduction. What to do, what not to do, and what cardinal rules not to break. Sets the tone for old school, unfussy drinks and helped kickstart the modern cocktail renaissance.

14. The Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master Bartender, with 500 Recipes (2002), by Dale DeGroff


Arguably responsible for the modern American renaissance in mixed drinks, and the mentor of many other bartenders now themselves considered the world's most influential, Dale is the godfather of them all. Perhaps a tad simplistic in today's geeky terms, and dare we describe the photography and garnishes as somewhat reminiscent of the 1980s, Dale's tome nevertheless has been the starting point and benchmark for many a career.

15. Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (2004), by Ted Haigh


A modern cocktail archeologist, Ted's magazine-style prose and design makes for easy and entertaining modern reading, and he successfully bridges old and new worlds of mixology, providing context and making cocktails relevant to modern drinkers.

16. Beach Bum Berry Remixed (2010), by Jeff Berry


Like the Indiana Jones of tiki, Jeff uncovers lost artefacts and recipes like no other and has catalogued the reprise of the tiki movement. He lives and breathes tiki and his books are an exact extension of his own personality, as all good books should be.

17. Imbibe (2007), by Dave Wondrich


An homage to Jerry Thomas: how he did what he did, why and in what context. Dave puts the professor's achievements into perspective and dissects the great man's greatness - and recipes.

18. The Joy of Mixology (2003), by Gary Regan


Before he became gaz (lower case please), this boy from Blackpool's conversational prose style and pleasant anecdotes suggest he's the bastard lovechild of Embury, Beebe and Baker - and it's an approach which belies an encyclopaedic knowledge of cocktail history and the part that the modern bartender plays in society.

19. Punch (2010), by Dave Wondrich


A definitive history that once again lays bare the provenance of this father figure of mixed drinks in the hands of Englishmen. Easy to read in Dave's inimitable style.

20. PDT Cocktail Book (2011), by Jim Meehan


A modern classic, years in the making, by the owner of the definitive cocktail bar of the early 21st century (so far), written and styled in the vein of the books of old.


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