Cocktail books are a dime a dozen these days. Every big name bar seems to be releasing their own tome. When the The PDT Cocktail Book came out in 2011 it quickly and sadly became the Bible of bartenders everywhere. I say sadly because everyone took the recipes as gospel when they should have been used as guidelines. That book set so many drinks in stone. It seemed like overnight every bar made the PDT manhattan their house manhattan. Cocktail books should bring creativity and inspiration rather than an instruction manual on how to copy a place right down to the light bulbs and glassware.
The other part about the current cocktail books that I find totally lacking is the absence of anecdotes, stories, and history (however misremembered it all may be.) A book full of ingredients and measurements with no backstory is about as boring as reading the dictionary.
The ten books I think every bartender or cocktail enthusiast should read are on the fringe. You wont see Death & Co, Liquid Intelligence, or Morgenthallers' The Bar Book on my list. They have their place and they sit on my shelf and have plenty of dog eared pages that get flipped to from time to time. The books I am talking about below are the ones that made me a better bartender and host for my guests. Reading a book full of recipes never made me any better behind the bar.
The Cocktail Books
Straight Up Or On The Rocks: A Cultural History of American Drink by William Grimes
This book dedicates its first chapter to the Martini and then puts you on a magic carpet ride through prohibition and into the modern era of drinks. It is fantastically written and debunks plenty of myths new and even experienced bartenders fall for.
The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris by Colin Peter Field
Colin Field is one of the few "old guard" bartenders that is still working full time. Forbes has named him the best bartender in the world three times over the last three decades. His voice comes through in his writing and his cocktails are simple and delicious. Worth a read to see how a Brit became the best and earned his place behind the prestigious Bar Hemingway.
This Place on Third Avenue by John McNulty
There are no cocktail recipes in this book. It is a gritty yet warm read about an Irish Saloon, its staff, and a few patrons from New York's East side set in the early 40's. A different time for sure, but a time that bartenders should know about.
Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis
The required reading of any bar I have helmed. Mr. Amis explains the many caveats of drinking professionally and sets a few rules on how to do it right. He takes charge of some age old questions and gives his very tongue in cheek opinion on plenty of topics. This book changed the way I drink at home and I reread it about once a year to stay sharp. It also contains the best bloody mary recipe I have come across to date.
Potation Handbook by Steve Carrow
A beauty of a book written by a good friend of mine. Steve used to visit me behind the bar on my late shifts and I would visit him behind his bar on my days off. Steve's cocktails are fantastic and he is a perfectionist in the best sense of the word. It was always an honor to sit across from him and I am glad he published his bar journal in the form of this leather bound book.
Fix the Pumps by Darcy O'Neil
This is such a great sleeper of a cocktail book. My copy is stained, torn and
gin-logged waterlogged. This manual focuses mostly on the switch from bars to the soda fountain after prohibition went into affect. So many great recipes for inspiration and a neat perspective on the service industry.
Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF by Camper English
I blew through this book in under an hour when I received my copy. A fun read about one of my favorite highballs. Camper quickly walks the reader through the Gin and Tonic and how it came to be what it is today. I wish he would write more books. Check out his constantly updated blog.
Star Bar Cocktail Book by Hisashi Kishi
You will probably need Google Translate to get through this book and the next one. Japanese bar technique is beautiful to witness and their drinks have so much thought put into them before a bottle is touched. I love the little stories before each cocktail in this book and I find myself preferring the cocktail ratios far more than the standard American ones.
The Bartenders Manual by Fukunishi; Kazuo Hanazaki; Masanobu Yamazaki; Tomomi Ezawa
More Japanese cocktails and techniques. I am shocked at how much information is in this book. I had to read the whole thing by taking photos and having Google translate each page. Highly recommended.
Her Foot is on the Brass Rail by Don Marquis
A very short and hard to find book. Don spends the entire brief text complaining about the women that have invaded the sacred and historically men only barrooms after Prohibition. It was written in jest but I find it to be an interesting part of history. I enjoy seeing how much he obviously loved his sanctuary...before it was taken over by the ladies: "The spiritual essence of drinking -- drinking as it was practiced in the Old Saloon -- is gone forever, killed by this invasion of women." The full text can be found online if you don't want to splurge for the book.
As I was putting those books back on my shelf I came across two more favorites I had to include.
Beta Cocktails by Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak
My first copy of this book was a printed out PDF that someone handed me while tending bar years ago. It was also titled Rogue Cocktails at the time. This book has so many cocktails to push you out of your comfort zone. A small but worthy bonus book to put on your shelf. The super tasty "Easy Does It" and the "Gunshop Fizz" are in this book.
Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey by Charles K. Cowdery
Chuck has forgotten more about whiskey than most of us have ever learned. This book will get you up to speed on everything you need to know about the brown spirit of America. If you need more check out the sequel or his fantastic blog.
Hopefully this list of books can send you down a few rabbit holes on our favorite subject.
Bar To Home
A simple translation from bar to home.