9 Must-Have Cocktail Books

There are thousands of cocktail books available in 2023. Are they good? Are they bad? Are they beginner friendly? Can I trust their contents? Which should I buy first? I’ve got you covered. Here are 9 great books to add to (or start your collection).

There are over 50,000 cocktail books available on Amazon. Some are amazing. Some are not so amazing. Fortunately for you, I have read them all and separated the wheat from the trash chaff. Seriously, I own way too many cocktail books.

The danger of any hobby is that you become more obsessed with collecting than with actually participating in the hobby itself. You end up with a collection of watches, guitars, or golf clubs. There’s no shortage of spirits, tools, art, and other paraphernalia when it comes to cocktails. I’ll try to save you some time (and money) by at least narrowing down the list of books you should consider. While by no means exhaustive, here’s a good place to start.

Best Mixology Books for Beginners

The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique

by Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is one of the OGs of internet mixology. He’s been blogging at jeffreymorgenthaler.com and writing for Playboy, Punch, and Imbibe! (among others) since 2004. The Bar Book is a comprehensive guide to the fundamental techniques and principles of cocktail making. It covers everything from essential tools and equipment to the proper methods of muddling, shaking, stirring, and straining.

The Bar Book is a perfect first book for someone just getting into making cocktails at home. It’s also great for the home mixologist wanting to step up their game.

The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy

by Jim Meehan

The PDT Cocktail Book is a compilation of recipes and insights from the renowned PDT (Please Don’t Tell) speakeasy in New York City. It’s also my go-to source for classic cocktail recipes. The PDT Cocktail Book contains over 300 recipes, along with tips, techniques, and anecdotes. It also provides guidance on bar setup, garnishes, glassware, and more. It’s a comprehensive resource for aspiring bartenders.

Meehan’s recipes are meticulously crafted, and his attention to detail is evident in the instructions and presentation. Some recipes require more specialized ingredients, but most of the recipes are approachable for home bartenders of any level.

The 12 Bottle Bar: Make Hundreds of Cocktails with Just Twelve Bottles

by David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

Most cocktail books focus on recipes, tools, and techniques. But the other question most burgeoning home bartenders ask is, “How the hell do I stock my home bar?” The 12 Bottle Bar answers that question. It challenges the notion that you need a vast array of spirits and liqueurs to create a diverse cocktail menu. With only 12 bottles (7 base spirits, 1 liqueur, 2 vermouths, and 2 bitters), the authors provide recipes for a multitude of classic and contemporary cocktails.

Not everyone is prepared to drop $250 or more all at once on a liquor collection. The book also contains options for a 1 bottle bar, a 3 bottle bar, and a 4 bottle bar.  You can build your collection slowly (and still afford rent and groceries). David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson also provide brand recommendations and plenty of information on tools, techniques, and cocktail history.

Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions

by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan

Cocktail Codex is more than a list of recipes. It’s a systematic approach to understanding cocktails. The book breaks down cocktails into six basic families and provides formulas that serve as templates for creating countless variations. By understanding the underlying principles, readers can unlock their creativity and confidently experiment with flavors.

How do bartenders remember so many recipes? The secret is that they don’t have to. Most bartenders intuitively start seeing the similarity between cocktails. A Daiquiri contains rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Swap the spirit, citrus, and/or sweetener and you have a myriad of other drinks: a Whiskey Sour (whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup), a Jack Rose (Applejack, lemon juice, grenadine), or a Bee’s Knees (gin, lemon juice, honey).

Cocktail Codex systematizes that intuition. It’s not just an approach to remembering recipes. It’s a way to understand balance and flavor and use that knowledge to create unique cocktails of your own.

Advanced Mixology Books

Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki

by Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate

Martin Cate’s San Francisco bar, Smuggler’s Cove, has been carrying the torch for tiki since opening in 2009. His book, Smuggler’s Cove, has been doing the same since it was published in 2016. The book explores the history, techniques, and culture behind tiki drinks. It features over 100 recipes (both classic tiki drinks and original creations) and provides guidance on rum selection, garnishes, and presentation.

Tiki has long been shrouded in mystery, thanks in large part to the secretive nature of tiki godfather Donn Beach (owner of Don the Beachcomber’s). Not even Don the Beachcomber’s bartenders knew all of the ingredients to the drinks. Some ingredients were premixed and the recipes called for a dash of number 3 and ½ ounce of number 2. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry deserves a ton of credit for researching, deciphering, and preserving many of the classic tiki recipes. Cate has built on the work of Berry and others and written the definitive guide to tiki.

Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails

by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, and Alex Day

Full Disclosure: I’m a huge Death & Co. fanboy. Death & Co. is a renowned cocktail bar in New York City, and this book brings its expertise and creativity to a wider audience. It features over 500 recipes accompanied by beautiful photography and detailed instructions. The book also provides a glimpse into the inner workings of Death & Co. It delves into the bar’s philosophy, techniques, and the art of hospitality.

Death & Co showcases the brilliance of one of the most influential cocktail bars in the country. More drinks from this book have earned a spot in my regular rotation of home cocktails than from any other source. Check out the Kingston Negroni (a funky Smith & Cross Negroni riff), Four In Hand (a spicy, spirit-forward apple, cinnamon, and vanilla cocktail), Conference (a split base Old Fashioned variation), Oaxaca Old Fashioned (a smokey Mezcal Old Fashioned), Naked & Famous (a Mezcal-based Paper Plane/Last Word riff), and Bella Luna (a balanced showcase for St. Germain and Creme Yvette).

Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail

by Dave Arnold

If you happen to have a centrifuge laying around your house and are looking to get some extra use out of it, this is the book for you. Dave Arnold, often referred to as the mad scientist of the cocktail world, is a pioneer in the field of modernist mixology. In Liquid Intelligence he discusses the science and techniques behind creating exceptional cocktails. He explores topics such as vacuum infusion, muddling with liquid nitrogen, fat washing, and home carbonation. The book combines theory, practical tips, and recipes and provides a comprehensive understanding of the scientific principles that underpin cocktail creation.

Liquid Intelligence is not just a book for the cocktail-obsessed science geek. Arnold’s experiments sometimes take things further than most home bartenders ever will. But the book is indispensable for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the science behind cocktails and how to use that knowledge to craft better drinks.

Imbibe! Updated and Revised Edition: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar

by David Wondrich

“Professor” Jerry Thomas is arguably the most influential figure of the 19th Century Golden Age of Cocktails. His 1862 book, alternatively titled The Bartender’s Guide, How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, was the first cocktail book published in America. Imbibe! pays homage to his legacy, explores the history of cocktails, and illuminates the origins and evolution of classic recipes.

David Wondrich is arguably the most influential cocktail historian of the 21st Century craft cocktail revival. Fortunately for us, he is also an entertaining and engaging writer. Imbibe! is a compelling and captivating history of the Golden Age of Cocktails and a fitting tribute to Jerry Thomas.

The Drunken Botanist

by Amy Stewart

Even though The Drunken Botanist contains a good number of cocktail recipes, it’s more a botany book than a cocktail book. Amy Stewart explores the fascinating relationship between plants and alcohol. She takes readers on a botanical journey and uncovers the origins and uses of various plants in the world of spirits, liqueurs, and cocktails.

The book is divided into three sections, exploring the plants that are distilled and fermented into alcohol (from agave to wheat), the botanicals used to flavor them (allspice to wormwood), and the fruits, vegetables, and herbs (basil to watermelon) used to make the cocktails. It’s a must-have book for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of how spirits are made and the plants that give them their flavors.

Paralysis by Analysis

A dog-eared copy of the Mr.Boston Official Bartender’s Guide used to be your only resource if you were looking for cocktail recipes. Now we’re faced with the opposite dilemma. There are so many books, blogs, and videos that it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll give you a hand. Here’s where to start. If you disagree with any of my choices or have other suggestions, let me know.