30 cocktail books you need on your shelves
Words by Jane Ryan
At the beginning of 2012 we published a list of the top 20 cocktail books ever published. After two more years of reviewing books we think there are another ten books which deserve to be added to this list. These 'must-haves' will not only teach you the art of bartending but give you recipes to be inspired by. We also welcome our first female authors to this list.
In alphabetical order:
1. 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 kick-start the modern cocktail renaissance.
2. Approved Cocktails Authorized by the United Kingdom Bartenders' Guild (1937)
A beautiful old book with alphabetically listed drinks which at the time gave bartenders the chance to standardise measures. Nowadays, it is better used for inspiration of old recipes, much like its contemporaries, and has influenced cocktail menus across the UK and beyond.
3. Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them
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. This is the long awaited update of Jeff's 2010 Beach Bum Berry Remixed
4. Bitters, A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All (2011), by Brad Thomas Parsons
Time was when stocking bitters meant only one brand. That time really wasn't that long ago. Even the most ardent homemade bitters makers would benefit from recapping on the whats, whys and hows. This is a great snapshot of bitters, and bars and bartenders' appreciation of them which marks out this era as bitterly defining. You'll certainly be hard-pressed to find more comprehensive coverage of the subject.
5. Cocktails By Le Forum (2012)
What immediately separates Cocktails by Le Forum from other cocktail books is the sense of fun apparent in its pages. You don't have to speak French to see from the pictures that this iconic bar, despite having stood here since 1918, doesn't take itself too seriously. Great recipes, simply explained.
6. Difford's Guide to Cocktails #12 by Simon Difford
A shameless plug, but this is still the ultimate bartender's bible with a 3,000+ strong collection of cocktails, each with a succinct comment, a colour photo and a score out of five.
7. Drinks (2012), by Tony Conigliaro
Tony Conigliaro's first book combines a compendium of 50 great drinks with an intriguing insight into the journey of one of the world's most respected bartenders. Its studied and thoughtful exploration shows how the world of drinks, something that's often taken as merely whimsical and pleasurable, is just as worthy of thorough research as has long been acceptable among the rest of the culinary world when focused on food.
8. 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 in hand.
9. Home Bar Basics - And Not-So-Basics (2013), by Dave Stolte
This handy alcohol refresher course meets party planning advice has a refreshingly frank and down-to-earth tone of voice, tells the enthusiastic cocktail just what they need to know and fits nicely in your pocket.
10. How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant's Companion (1862), by Jerry Thomas
The original and arguably the best, the Professor 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.
11. 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 his recipes.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. Soda Shop Salvation (2013), by Rae Katherine Eighmey
Soda Shop Salvation takes you on a fascinating journey into a world that has only recently started to enjoy a revival - and it's easy to see why. To anyone interested in cocktail culture, the parallels that can be drawn between the worlds of mixed drinks and soda fountains come as thick and fast as an ice cream sundae.
17. 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.
18. The Art of The Shim (2013), by Dinah Sanders
A low-alcohol recipe book that managed to avoid drinks that are big on fruit and sweetness, but low on complexity and mouth-feel. A must read for anyone interested in enjoying three great drinks rather than one.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. The Curious Bartender (2013), by Tristan Stephenson
This is part historical treatise, part instructional manual, part survival guide to the perils of the rotavap. Or perhaps it's really the thought process along the way, the sheer curiosity, that truly singles out today's bartenders from the generations that have come before. Recipes, history and curiosity a-plenty. He's publishing two more books in 2014.
22. 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 arguably 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.
23. The Drunken Botanist (2013), Amy Stewart
"Every great drink starts with a plant," runs the subtitle of the book. We couldn't agree more, but rarely has this been successfully focused on. Definitely aimed at the geeky end of the spectrum, it's an impressively detailed collection of back-stories and explanations about the botanical origins of many of the drinks we take for granted, and well-researched historical investigations that give as full an explanation into some topics than we've ever seen before.
24. 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.
25. 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'.
26. 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.
27. 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.
28. The Tequila Ambassador (2012), by Tomas Estes
The Tequila Ambassador is internationally renowned tequila expert Tomas Estes's first book on his beloved spirit. Published by Odd Firm of Sin it is a definitive history and commentary on this most misunderstood of spirits. Tomas also includes an impressive compendium of tequila cocktails.
29. 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 1'500 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.
30. 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.