Diving into the wild world of craft cocktails and mixology head first is one way to start learning more about them. You can also take one of a few different mixology classes here in town. However, for you bookworms out there, there's a ton of great reads for beginners and experienced cocktail enthusiasts. Whether you're a history buff or an aspiring bartender, there's something on this list for you to get good and booze nerdy over.
Imbibe! by David Wondrich If you're looking for a place to begin your cocktail education, historian David Wondrich's account of the birth of the cocktail is a great place to start. Filled with recipes that he tested himself, the book melds a practical guide for making all of the classics with the stories behind them. Imbibe is centered on Jerry Thomas, one of history's most notable bartenders. If you want to claim cocktail snobbery, you have to know about "Professor" Jerry Thomas.
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart If you're into the more horticultural side of liquor and mixed drinks, Stewart's guide to all things boozey and botanical is the way to go. The book analyzes the traditions, history, chemistry, and even purported health benefits of herbal tinctures, liqueurs, and more. If you're both a gardener and a cocktail lover, this book is for you.
The Art of the Shim by Dinah Sanders We're guessing that shims (or low-alcohol cocktails) are going to be one of the next big things in drink making, so why not get ahead of the curve and brush up on your shim know-how now. Learn how to mix balanced, flavorful cocktails without a boozey punch. Aided by a bunch of beautiful photos, Sanders' book is almost as much about the cocktail porn as it is about learning about the cocktails themselves.
Death & Co. by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, and Alex Day If there's one cocktail book creating a buzz right now, it's the newly released recipe book from the creative crew over at New York's Death & Co. bar. Widely hailed as one of the best in the nation and winner of countless awards and accolades in the industry, if you want to learn from the masters, this book is it. The fact that it has over 500 recipes, along with a bunch more guides, essays, and other information, means this compendium of cocktail knowledge from modern experts is sure to stand out as a definitive source for years to come.
Savory Cocktails by Greg Henry Anyone can make a simple syrup and pour it into a cocktail. The sweet stuff is easy. Truly mastering the art of, as the book's extended title puts it, "sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, rich, strong" flavors elevates cocktails from a sideshow to the main act. Filled with over 100 recipes for savory drinks, at the very least, you're sure to get some ideas for your own drink concoctions from Henry's use of unique and unexpected drinks.
The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale Degroff You could equate Degroff to the modern-day Jerry Thomas in that he is a professional, expert, and, above all, a barman through and through. Pointed to as one of the folks who brought back the craft cocktail movement, you can't really consider your cocktail education complete without hearing what Degroff has to say on the topic. With tons of recipes and all of the tips and tricks he'd give to bartenders in training, if you're looking to go pro, you have to read The Craft of the Cocktail.
The Joy of Mixology by Gary "Gaz" Regan It's true that Regan has written several cocktail books. However, if you have to choose just one of his books to own, it has to be The Joy of Mixology. The book categorizes drinks into an almost taxonomic breakdown of how drinks relate to one another, rounding out anyone's cocktail knowledge into a more complete and analytical look at how drinks have developed. We will say, though, that his book, The Bartender's Gin Compendium, is also a worthy read.
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The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg While this book isn't a cocktail book per se, if you ask any bartender and they'll tell you that The Flavor Bible is one to have in your arsenal. Let's say you want to make a cocktail with cardamom bitters but you don't have any idea what pairs well with cardamom's spiced flavor--well, that's precisely what this book will tell you. It's truly an asset both in the kitchen and behind the bar.
The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Chris Gall This one goes out to all of the speakeasy Prohibition-era cocktail lovers out there. PDT's Meehan gives his insight on this style of cocktail and bar, while Gall lends beautiful illustration to the cocktail guidebook. PDT's book a must-read for anyone thinking about opening his or her own speakeasy someday.
Cocktail Techniques by Kazuo Uyeda Don't feel bad if you're not up on your Japanese cocktail culture because you need to look no further than Uyeda's book for a crash course. The precision, artistry, and craftsmanship of his cocktail philosophy are the perfect guides to hone your cocktail skills. Prepare to get polished and perfect your technical skills.