2018 Holiday Gift Guide: 15 of the Best Cocktail Books for Cocktail Lovers
Ladies and gents, it’s that time of year again. The time of year for Starbucks holiday cup controversies, 24/7 holiday music, bad holiday TV specials, and the ever-important rewatching of the best holiday movie in history, Elf. Sarcasm aside, this really is one of my favorite times of year. It’s a time for trying new recipes, honoring my parent’s memory by making some of their old recipes, going to pop-ups and holiday parties, and putting up my out-of-office email. And, it’s now time for my gift guide for drink lovers.
In years past, my holiday gift guide has featured a variety of different gifts for drink lovers, like last year’s holiday gift guide with mixology kits, bottled cocktails, cocktail subscriptions and more. This year’s holiday gift guide, however, narrows in on some of the best cocktail books for cocktail lovers, enthusiasts, and home (and pro) bartenders. All of these I’ve either read from cover to cover, or used for reference, and most of them you’ll find on my bookshelf. They are the crème de la crème of cocktail books. So without any further ado, see my take below on the best cocktail books for cocktail lovers.
2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Best Cocktail Books
The PDT Cocktail Book
This, along with the following cocktail book, are the cocktail bibles as far as I’m concerned. The PDT Cocktail Book comes from Jim Meehan of the renowned Manhattan cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell, featuring all of PDT’s cocktail recipes. It’s beautifully illustrated, and also has bar equipment recommendations and other tips and tricks from one of the world’s best bars. You know it’s a good cocktail book when it’s on the shelf of so many craft cocktail bars.
Death & Co
Just as important of a cocktail book, and cocktail bar, is Death and Co, which is the name of yet another renowned Manhattan cocktail bar. I consider Death & Co’s cocktail book the best coffee table cocktail book, featuring several hundred cocktail recipes, infusions and more. If you’re looking for a good, beautiful cocktail book of recipes, then look no further than these two cocktail books.
Jerry Thomas 1862 Bartenders Guide
For the nostalgic cocktail lover, there’s the Jerry Thomas 1862 Bartenders Guide from "the father of American mixology” himself. Thomas’ bartenders guide was actually the first drink book ever published in America, and many of the recipes in it are the basis of some of the most popular cocktails today. As such, this is the cocktail book for the history nerd, who likes the history and nostalgia of cocktails as much as making cocktails themselves.
The Savoy Cocktail Book
Similarly is The Savoy Cocktail Book, written by Harry Craddock and originally published in 1930. Interestingly enough, this was the only book Craddock ever wrote, and what a book it was, housing more than 750 cocktail recipes. Who knew there were that many cocktails in the early 1900s! Like above, The Savoy Cocktail Book is another great gift for the nostalgic cocktail connoisseur.
Punch comes from what I consider the leading present-day cocktail historian (yes, that’s totally a thing), David Wondrich. If you’re less into cocktail recipes and more into the nostalgic, long history of cocktails, then Punch is a great starting place. Punch covers centuries of stories about the traditional punch bowl, including stories about sailors, kings, presidents, pirates and more. It’s altogether entertaining and informative, and also includes a number of punch recipes.
Imbibe! is another book written by David Wondrich, which he actually won a James Beard award for. While Punch is a tribute to the punch bowl, Imbibe! is a tribute to Jerry Thomas. Like Punch, it’s full of stories and colorful characters that date back years. However, what I love most about both of these books is that they are part historic, entertaining narrative and part recipe book, while I find many drink books are one or the other.
And a Bottle of Rum
And a Bottle of Rum was one of the first cocktail books I read from cover to cover, and it didn’t disappoint in the least bit. And a Bottle of Rum is written by Wayne Curtis, who I’d consider one of the top cocktail journalists. What’s interesting about this book is that each chapter begins with a rum recipe, and then the following pages take readers on a fascinating journey through the history of that drink and wild stories involving rum. I don’t think there’s been a drink book that I was so engrossed by.
The Drunken Botanist
The Drunken Botanist is arguably one of the most unique cocktail books I’ve come across. In fact, it’s so unique that you may find it in the “gardening” section of your local bookstore. That’s because it highlights the roots, literally and figuratively, of many of the world’s best drinks. Scotch, sake, bourbon, tequila, and mezcal all have their roots in botany, and this book explores how biology, chemistry, history, and mixology all weaves into our favorite craft cocktails and spirits.
The Craft of the Cocktail
The Craft of the Cocktail is another modern-day cocktail book that should be on the shelf of every bartender. That’s for a couple of reasons, the first of which being that it features more than 500 cocktail recipes. But even more important, it comes from one of the most highly respected mixologists, Dale DeGroff, often described as the “King of Cocktails.” If it’s just a cocktail recipe book you’re after, this is a good start for the cocktail hobbyist.
The Craft Cocktail Party
For The Craft Cocktail Party we hear from one of my favorite female bartenders, Julie Reiner. As the name presumes, this cocktail book is less about the individual cocktail and more about the occasion. Recipes are organized by seasonality and occasion, with tips, too, about things like batching cocktails. Therefore, this is a great cocktail book for the host or entertainer who wants to up their cocktail-making game.
The Joy of Mixology
Like many of the bartenders I’ve mentioned here, Gary Regan is another one I’d label under the “legendary bartender” category. Imbibe Magazine goes as far as to call him “one of the most-read cocktail experts around.” Among his books is The Joy of Mixology, which brings a new understanding to cocktail making and features more than 350 cocktail recipes. This is yet another example of a great cocktail book for beginners who want to learn, as Regan doles out his expert advice on methodology, equipment and more.
Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean
If you’re into tiki cocktails, then you may have heard of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, or perhaps even had one of his cocktails. Imbibe calls him the “veritable godfather of the modern tiki revivial,” which sums up his importance to tiki cocktail culture. I’d go as far as calling Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean the most important modern-day tiki cocktail book. In it, Jeff Berry takes readers on a journey through centuries of West Indian history, sharing more than 75 cocktail recipes, many of which were lost recipes that had never been published before. This cocktail book is for the Caribbean, tiki and rum lover among you.
Shake is quite possibly the prettiest cocktail book available. Coming to you from the entrepreneurs who invented The Mason Shaker cocktail shaker (yes, really), Shake is a more modern version of the cocktail recipe book, focusing on the visual nature of cocktail making. In that way, I think this is a great book for the home bartender who likes visualizations and an easy, straightforward approach to making drinks at home.
While many of the books I’ve listed here focus on cocktails and the art of making cocktails, Boozehound narrows in on the spirits themselves. The book is part travelogue, part historical narrative and part recipe book. It brings together many of the elements of all these other books, but combines them into one entertaining, authoritative book.
Calling all literary lovers! Tequila Mockingbird appeals to less of the imbibing historian and cocktail lover, and more to the appreciator of literature. That’s because each of the 65 cocktails are literary-themed, featuring snarky commentary that combines craft cocktails with history’s most famed novels. It’s the kind of book that you leave out on your coffee table, and guests spend all night flipping through. I say that because I’ve actually done that.