Ultimate Cocktail-Book Buying Guide

By Justine Sterling Posted November 13, 2012
The PDT Cocktail Book

The PDT Cocktail Book / Courtesy of Sterling Epicure.

In their quest to master classic and new cocktail techniques, mixologists around the country hit the books. To help you prep for the holiday season (and start a gift list), we asked top experts to reveal essential reading materials. With five passionate recommendations, The PDT Cocktail Book, by F&W contributing editor Jim Meehan, garnered sweeping praise for best contemporary release. (Meehan himself gives props to David Wondrich and a tome published in 1930.) Here, a buying guide for every interest, from a Hemingway-inspired book chosen by cocktail genius Dale DeGroff to the oldest selection, Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide, from 1862.

To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, by Philip Greene, 2012
Dale DeGroff, author and mixologist: “Phil Greene is the treasurer of the Museum of the American Cocktail. He’s written this marvelous book about the drinks of Hemingway, which also really gets into the life of Hemingway. I’m convinced it’s going to be a best seller.”

Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book, by Frederic Robert Yarm, 2012
Paul McGee, RPM Italian, Chicago: “I love this book because of Frederic Yarm’s pure honesty. There are more than 500 recipes from Boston bars and restaurants in it and he really reviews all of the cocktails: the good, bad and the ugly—it feels very personal and real.”

Shake, Stir, Pour, by Katie Loeb, 2012
David Wondrich, author and cocktail historian: “The book offers a lot of commonsense help with integrating fresh, greenmarket-type flavors into your drinks. Not my personal style of tippling—I’m a booze-to-the-front sort of drinker—but nicely done.”

Beta Cocktails, by Maksym Pazuniak & Kirk Estopinal, 2011
Adam Robinson, The Rum Club, Portland, Oregon: “It is filled with recipes that really push the boundaries of flavor and taste. Many of the drinks do not necessarily look like they would work on paper, but when you make them, they do and are delicious. For example, a few of the drinks use bitters like Angostura and Peychaud’s as a base spirit. It is definitely not an intro-level book; it’s geared more toward the cocktail nerds.”

All the Gin Joints: New Spins on Gin from America’s Best Bars, by Michael Turback, 2011
Priscilla Young, Brasserie S&P, San Francisco: “It is inventive and creative, full of fantastic images of cocktails. Perfect for beginners looking to experiment with gin, and a supereasy read.”

The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy, by Jim Meehan, 2011
Jackson Cannon, The Hawthorne, Boston: “Cocktail and bar books come out by the dozens every year. Here’s what separates the PDT book from the pack:
1. Its design. It’s weighty the way a stand-alone, comprehensive bar book should be. You literally could pry this from under a rock in 2112 and recreate a 21st-century bar.
2. The artwork. Chris Gall is a genius, and straddles the line between fine art and adolescent graphic-novel fantasies.
3. Most importantly: The 300 classic and new recipes have been fully vetted by a master.”

Old Man Drinks, by Robert Schackenberg, 2010
Chris Hopkins, Vesper at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: “The book offers the building blocks for making classic cocktails with a focus on bourbon, rye and gin—as these spirits are the basis for many drinks made today. The recipes are combined with classic tales, anecdotes and one-liners that have been bandied around bars since my old man was a young man!”

Cocktail Techniques, by Kazuo Uyeda, 2010
Todd Maul, Clio, Boston: “It’s a great modern Japanese cocktail book. Legendary Tokyo bartender Kazuo Uyeda [pioneer of the hard shake] writes about a range of innovative methods like ‘coraling’: a special way to rim a glass with sugar or salt by dipping the glass in an alcohol first. I took that idea and ran with it. At Clio, we make an orgeat powder and coral the glass with it. The book also inspired me to flash infuse green crème de menthe with real mint and use that as the liquid in a deconstructed mojito.”

In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks, by Ti Adelaide Martin & Lally Brennan, 2007
Abigail Gullo, SoBou, New Orleans:
“Not only are all of the bases covered with classics and new drinks alike, but there are amazing illustrations and stories to go along with each cocktail. It’s like a beverage-oriented J. Peterman catalog.”

The Joy of Mixology, by Gary [a.k.a. Gaz] Regan, 2003
Jeff Faile, Fiola, Washington DC: “Gaz Regan breaks down the fundamentals of bartending. Let’s face it, you have to learn to walk before you can run. This simplifies what you need for a bar, why you need it, why ingredients go together and how to make a proper drink. There’s also a great collection of some of his favorite drinks in the back.”

The Craft of the Cocktail, by Dale DeGroff, 2002, and The Essential Cocktail, by Dale DeGroff, 2008
Lucy Brennan, Mint/820, Portland, Oregon: “These books are clear and to the point. Old-school knowledge is the foundation to DeGroff’s books and I believe everyone who wants to make well-balanced cocktails should know the history of spirits and have respect for traditional styles of making cocktails.”

Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich, 2007
Jim Meehan, F&W contributing editor, author, and mixologist at PDT, New York: “With his James Beard Award-winning biography of the 19th century’s most famous bartender, Jerry Thomas (who authored the first bartender’s guide), David Wondrich laid the foundation for a new genre of culinary writing called ‘mixography.’ Coined by Wondrich himself, the term mixographer refers to someone who works like a cultural anthropologist to not only document cocktail history, but explain how it unfolded and more importantly, what the drinks of a time period may have tasted like.”

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, by David A. Embury, 1948
Todd Maul, Clio, Boston: “The greatest cocktail book of all time. David’s book is music theory for making drinks. It talks about drinks in every aspect. What is a drink, how you build a drink. He delves into the theory behind cocktails, such as ratio of sweet to sour, whether you should shake or stir and how to use citrus (in season or out).”

The Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock, 1930
Jim Meehan, PDT, New York: “This is one of the most important cocktail books of the 20th century. It’s a watershed book in the sense that it’s a collection of all the great recipes of the early 20th century. [Keep in mind] that if you were to actually make drinks using the measurements in the book, you would find they’re not balanced to our taste. These kinds of books are important to be aware of, but if you are just getting into cocktails, I wouldn’t try to make those drinks.”

Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, by Harry Johnson, 1900
Bryan Dayton, Oak at Fourteenth, Denver: “This book really hits on the great value that one should maintain behind the bar. It tells bartenders how to be professional, presentable, close out properly, etc. Great advice.”

The Flowing Bowl, by William Schmidt, 1891
James Ives, Bellocq, New Orleans: “The Only William, as he referred to himself, was among the first bartenders to create his own drinks. In the introduction to The Flowing Bowl, he writes that ‘Originality is the key to success.’ The drinks that follow are a testament to that originality. He employs multiple, sometimes hard to find or replicate, ingredients in unconventional increments. Reproducing these drinks has taught me more about complexity and layering than any other book and appeals directly to the style of drinks that I like to make: full-flavored, subtly balanced cocktails that are distinct in their complexity and that evolve in the glass.”

Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide, by Jerry Thomas, 1862
David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of Imbibe!, a book about the pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas: “Because you’ve got to start at the beginning.”

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