A lot can be learned about cocktails simply by going to bars and sampling different drinks. Some may call this getting drunk, but we like to think of it as learning.
For those hoping to become truly versed in the art of mixing drinks, however, there is an incredible body of written work on the subject. An Amazon search for the term “cocktail book” yields more than 8,000 results. To offer some guidance, we spoke to some of the country’s leading bartenders and asked them: Which is the one cocktail book that changed your life?
“‘Meehan’s Bartender Manual’ by Jim Meehan. I believe it’s the most comprehensive book on the subject currently out. It covers service, hospitality, spirits, bartending technique, round building, recipes, bar layout, and many more things the modern bartender needs to know.” — Will Pasternak, Head Bartender, BlackTail, NYC
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“Beachbum Berry’s ‘Sippin’ Safari.’ That and the original ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie made me the pirate I am today. No offense to everyone else that has written a tiki book but this is THE book on tiki. Bum is a master storyteller and he knows where all the f*cking bodies are buried. It gave me the path to the original 1934 Zombie, and inspired many of the syrups I make today.” — Brian Miller, Partner, Beverage Director, and Bartender, The Polynesian, NYC
“Kazuo Uyeda’s ‘Cocktail Techniques.’ It was the first book on technique that I had ever read. His method of describing technique as a tool to connect with the guest changed everything I did behind the bar from that point on. His belief that a good drink begins before the guest walks through the door made me reevaluate my approach entirely.” — Ezra Star, General Manager, Drink, Boston
“I’m biased, but I am also honest in saying that ‘The PDT Cocktail Book’ was the most influential for me. Jim [Meehan] created a book that had recipes for classics and some obscure classics that all bartenders should know when considering how to balance new drinks. It also helps fill out the recipe section with drinks from the top of the industry throughout the world. This gives it a great time stamp to understand how the world was drinking in the late aughts and how that inspired the next 10 years. “ — Jeff Bell, Consulting Master Blender, BERTOUX Brandy; General Manager, PDT; and Bar Director, Legacy Records, NYC
“‘Liquid Intelligence’ by Dave Arnold. It is the ultimate tool for cocktail nerds and enthusiasts alike. The book journeys through the basics of cocktail creation starting with bar tools all the way to molecular gastronomy techniques. I’ve used it both as a reference for cocktail-making 101 and a source of inspiration for brainstorming more innovative creations.” — Shawn Chen, Beverage Director, RedFarm and Decoy, NYC
“[In] 2008, I was studying for my Bar Smarts. I had been tending bar for a few years but my experience was limited to high-volume mixed drinks, beers, and shots. During and right after the program, I wanted to read all that I could find about classic cocktails. [I bought] Jerry Thomas’ ‘How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion,’ ‘The Savoy Cocktail Book,’ and Ted Haigh’s ‘Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.’ I was enamored and amused by the anecdotes, illustrations, and guidance provided in these mini tomes and intrigued by all of the recipes. The more I read, the more there was to discover and learn. It set a precedent for how I approach my job, and I still feel like I’m learning.” — Kellie Thorn, Bar Manager, Empire State South, Atlanta
“‘A Spot at the Bar’ by Michael Madrusan and Zara Young. I often give this book to new hires to read, as it’s not only a great for recipes and service notes but the love of being in a great bar really comes through. I think it’s an essential read for recipes but also the details that go into great bars.” — Meaghan Dorman, Bar Director and Partner, Dear Irving on Hudson, NYC
“‘Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual’ [1882 edition]. Johnson shares his thoughts on things like staff training, how to store beer, how to open Champagne, what to consider when buying an old bar, bookkeeping, and the all-important ‘How to make money.’ His writing style is honest, straightforward, and easy to understand. Most impressive is just how relevant and sensible his thoughts and directives are even today. Of course, there are cocktails as well, namely the Tuxedo, which is one of my favorites.” — Franky Marshall, Modern Bartender/Educator, NYC
“The one book that really changed my perspective was Jefferey Morgenthaler’s ‘The Bar Book,’ because Morgenthaler explains how to break down ingredients and elements to add to cocktails. I think it’s important to know how to properly create syrups and infusions, in a way that will allow you to extract the maximum flavor. If done wrong, it can create off flavors, and this often happens with novice bartenders who haven’t learned proper techniques.” — Ryan Andrews, Beverage Director, GBOD Hospitality Group, San Diego
“It’s not technically a cocktail book, but I will say that few books have had a bigger impact on my drink creation over the years than ‘The Flavor Bible.’ Though ostensibly aimed at chefs, it has proven an invaluable resource when I am running low on initial inspiration or stuck at a standstill with a drink I’m R&Ding. Whether it’s one of the brief sentences proffered by a chef about a particular application of an ingredient, or scanning the Flavor Affinities sections that prominent ingredients have featured at the end of their list of related ingredients, I can nearly always count on ‘The Flavor Bible’ getting me out of a creative rut.” — Joaquín Simó, Partner, Pouring Ribbons, NYC