The way you learn how to make craft cocktails isn’t by drinking a lot of them (though that experience doesn’t necessarily hurt). You need to memorize recipes, learn how different liquors are made, and even understand a bit of chemistry — that’s why most serious bartenders and booze connoisseurs are well-read folks, with libraries full of bartending guides and cocktail books that they still reference, even after years of experience under their belts. To help you fill your own home with the best cocktail books for every type of drinker, I asked experts to share what’s on their shelves, from the classic bartender guides that taught them the fundamentals to the modern drink books that help them get creative.
“My personal go-to, from the time I was first learning cocktails to present, is the The Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock. It’s primarily a recipe book, with a few choice anecdotes thrown in, but more than anything, it’s sort of an ‘A to Z’ resource on classic cocktails. It’s a great starting point for any bartender, and it’s still an incredible, great reference guide.” —Jim Kearns, beverage director and partner, the Happiest Hour
“For technique, my first and only recommendation used to be Dale DeGroff’s first book, The Craft of the Cocktail. It has a lot of valuable information in it, as well as recipes, so it’s still a good one to check out.” —Kearns
“I probably need a new copy of this book, the copy I’m looking at right now is pretty well-thumbed and busted up … I have always ‘loved the things that make the thing,’ and this book was my first introduction into a lot of the processes and techniques that made my drinks possible. It was the one book I would always have kicking around the office, and it was the unofficial training manual for bartenders and barbacks alike. I learned a huge amount from this book when I first started bartending, and it really helped me refine various aspects of my processes. The cocktail-recipe books were always really important (and I have shelves full of those), but this book was the one that really, in my opinion, allowed me to make the best possible version of those drinks.” —Gareth Howells, North American brand ambassador, Dewar’s
“Like many bartenders, I love Charles H. Baker’s A Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World With Jigger, Beaker and Flask. Baker was a writer for Esquire and Gourmet, and independently wealthy (or, more correctly, his wife was). He traveled the world in the 1930s, staying in tea plantations in Sri Lanka and fine hotels in Manila, writing down recipes on cocktail napkins as he encountered them. His recipes are often terrible, meaning modern bartenders have had to tweak them to make them palatable. But it’s a great travelogue, and he meets some great people, including Bacardi family members, one of whom gives him the recipe for the superb ‘Daisy de Santiago’ — a forgotten classic that combines Bacardi rum with Chartreuse and lime and is simply superb!” —Jacob Briars, global advocacy director, Bacardi Limited
Jane Danger, beverage director at Mother of Pearl in Manhattan, also recommends The Gentleman’s Companion.
“There are many classic cocktail books I’ve checked for cocktail recipes or inspiration over the years, [but] one has always stuck out: Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or, Around the World With Jigger, Beaker and Flask. His style of book is an inspiration for past and future work in writing and drink making. The name does say it: This book contains cocktails, at their places of origin around the globe and the stories of their births, or the first time Charles had imbibed these tipples — which are just as interesting, if not more than, as the ingredients in these drinks … The balance of story to proper drink mixing and ingredient keeps me interested. I feel the story behind the cocktail needs to be as good as the drink.” —Jane Danger, beverage director, Mother of Pearl
“For a more modern approach, two excellent books I refer often are widely available. The first is Julie Reiner’s Craft Cocktail Party, which is a great resource for the home enthusiast. Julie is behind celebrated New York City cocktail bars Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club, and more recently, Leyenda, and her book is full of simple recipes with solid credentials that are easy to replicate at home, leavened with her dry wit.” —Briars
“If you want to geek out a little more (and most cocktail lovers do), Jim Meehan of PDT has recently published Meehan’s Manual, which includes in-depth sections on spirits, behind-the-scenes sections with distilleries (including less obvious ones, such as Benedictine in Normandy) and producers, such as John Glaser of Compass Box and Martini & Rossi’s Beppe Musso. It is a great reference for the current state of the cocktail revival. And it features classic and contemporary cocktails, tested to Jim’s exacting standards, and gorgeously shot by Doron Gild.” —Briars
“Besides being my good friends, Jane [Danger] and Alla [Lapushchik] are hands down some of the best bartenders I’ve ever come across, and two of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. Reading their new book took me on a journey through the history of my life, being a bourbon [and] whiskey drinker since a very young age. I like that it’s not just a cookie-cutter recipe book. Jane and Alla delve into the history of bourbon, detail a list of some of the best bourbon-focused bars, and they even threw in a calendar of bourbon festivals and events. It’s pretty much all a whiskey lover could want in one book.” —Ravi DeRossi, founder, DeRossi Global
“Imbibe and Punch by Dave Wondrich are essential to the serious bar professional. Everyone who is looking to further their knowledge of the history of where our incredible profession comes from needs to deep dive into these two books.” —Willy Shine, Jägermeister Brand Meister
“Being an agave sommelier, it’s no surprise that understanding the plant itself, the terroir, the production processes are all vital to my understanding of the spirits, which is why I have always been fascinated by The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart. She delves into every spirit before it was a spirit: the sugar canes of rum, the rice grains of sake, [and] the agave of tequila [and] mezcal, of course. It brings an element of understanding to the products themselves that many bartenders never fully embrace in their day-to-day.” —Amanda Swanson, tequila sommelier, Añejo
“I also highly recommend Liquid Intelligence, by Dave Arnold, for experienced bartenders. It covers the nitty-gritty chemistry of cocktails from the shape of the cubes of ice and the size of the bubbles in Champagne to the science of perfect dilution and everything above, below, and beyond. But if a beginning bartender wants to learn technique and amazing recipes, Death & Co. is always my go-to cocktail book.” —Swanson
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.