The 8 Best Bartending Guides and Cocktail Books in 2021

Spirited guides to all your cocktail-making needs

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: The Craft of the Cocktail at Amazon

Often considered an industry bible, this is an absolute must-own for anyone who's interested in drinks.

Best For Beginners: The Joy of Mixology at Amazon

Author Gary Regan’s concept of categorizing drinks makes it easy to memorize classics and create your own recipes.

Best For Entertaining: Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails at Amazon

This cocktail book guides you through fresh juices, homemade syrups, and tropical flavors.

Most Comprehensive: Meehan’s Bartender Manual at Amazon

Meehan calls on industry friends to weigh in with tips and tricks to perfecting cocktail-making.

Best Graphics: Craft Cocktails at Home at Amazon

Kevin Liu infuses the world of cocktails with duct tape, quirky recipes, and many laughs along the way.

Best Coffee Table Book: Cocktail Codex at Amazon

It reads like a textbook (albeit a gorgeous one), breaking down the six easy templates for creating cocktails.

Best Single-Topic: Spirits of Latin America at Amazon

Part cocktail book, part travelogue, this book details Ivy Mix’s time traveling (and drinking) her way through Latin America.

Best For Experimentation: Liquid Intelligence at Amazon

"Dave Arnold turns classic cocktails on their head, questioning correct temperatures, carbonation, measurements, and acidity."

Regardless of whether you are a seasoned bartender or a home-mixologist enthusiast, a selection of boozy books will help improve your cocktail-making skills. Our selections stroll many different avenues: There are books that cover the basics of mixology and those that dive deep into cocktail history. Some are meant to entertain or inspire a spirited DIY project or two, while others transport you to the world’s best drinking destinations or provide a stunning centerpiece and conversation starter in the form of a coffee table book.

Here are the best cocktail and bartending guides, with insight provided by some of the country’s top bartenders. 

Best Overall: The Craft of the Cocktail

The Craft of the Cocktail Book by Dale DeGroff
One of the best modern bartending guides, Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail is a book everyone who mixes cocktails needs in their library. Courtesy of Amazon.com
What We Like
  • Written by the King of Cocktails

  • Covers a wide range of topics

What We Don't Like
  • Older than most books

"The Craft of the Cocktail" is often considered an industry bible—an absolute must-own for anyone who is interested in drinks. It’s written by Dale DeGroff, known in the industry as "King of Cocktails," who has trained a whole generation of the world’s best bartenders. Much of his knowledge is imparted in these pages, including tips on perfecting your technique, how to properly set up a bar, and how to correctly use your tools.

In these pages, Degroff provides primers on every major spirit category, sprinkled with anecdotes and fun facts about the booze world. With over 500 cocktail recipes, Degroff covers popular drinks, historic drinks you should know, and a number of his own creations that have now become modern classics in the bar world. 

It’s a great book to have around as a point of reference. Use it to look up cocktail recipes with ease, or flip through it to refresh yourself on spirits categories.

Number of Recipes: More than 500 | Pages: 240 | Date Published: 2002

Best For Beginners: The Joy of Mixology

The Joy of Mixology Book by Gary (Gaz) Regan
If you love history and you love cocktails, Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology is a must. Professional bartenders will find this a valuable reference. Courtesy of Amazon.com
What We Like
  • Recently updated

  • A cocktail "bible"

  • Great for drink makers of all levels

What We Don't Like
  • Lacking lots of images and illustrations

Penned by Gary "Gaz" Regan, "The Joy of Mixology" kicks off with a colorful history of the cocktail and mixed drinks world. It then transitions to the recipe section of the book, where Regan focuses on the different "families" of cocktail styles through informative tables. His concept of categorizing drinks makes it easy to memorize classics and build your own recipes. 

Regan was beloved for hosting bartending training camps, and much of the wisdom he taught rising bar stars is cataloged in these pages. There’s valuable advice as well as insight on the tools and techniques that have worked best in his own career. 

Though the book was first written in 2003, a recent re-release has been revised to include more cocktail recipes, updates to the original, and a deep dive into the drink-making revival that has taken place over the last decade. Whether you're a pro or an enthusiast, this is a staple book for any bar library.

Number of Recipes: More than 350 | Pages: 352 | Date Published: 2003

Best For Entertaining: Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails

What We Like
  • Doubles as an excellent coffee table book

  • Stunning photography and illustrations

What We Don't Like
  • Recipes are challenging for new bartenders

  • Ingredients are hard to source

Regardless of the time of year, a transportive, tropical cocktail is a welcome beverage. Shannon Mustipher’s first book, "Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails" dives into the world of tiki drinks through island-inspired recipes with bright, tropical flavors. 

"Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails," the first cocktail book by an African-American bartender in over 100 years, guides readers through making fresh fruit juices and homemade syrups (like banana), and stirring up bright flavors in a glass.

While tiki cocktails are notoriously difficult to make, Mustipher (formerly the resident rum savant at the now-closed Glady’s Caribbean in Brooklyn) breaks down the drinks into easy-to-execute recipes with a focus on refreshing flavors and high-quality spirits. And beyond rum cocktails, there are vodka-based drinks, soju cocktails, whiskey sips, and more. 

The high-impact garnishes, from paper umbrellas to pineapple fronds, are captured in colorful images with innovative art direction. Place this book on your coffee table and watch guests flip through voraciously. Take particular note of the party-perfect large-format punches that will impress a crowd.

Number of Recipes: More than 90 | Pages: 192 | Date Published: 2019

Most Comprehensive: Meehan’s Bartender Manual

What We Like
  • Includes the history behind each recipe

  • Covers how spirits are made

  • Includes insight from a range of bartenders

What We Don't Like
  • Content may be too complex for amateurs

“'Meehan’s Bartenders Manual' is my all-time favorite cocktail book,” describes Jose Medina Camacho of the award-winning Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama. “It teaches you about both classic and modern cocktails, and it is incredibly easy to navigate."

Written by the famed bartender and founder of New York City’s legendary P.D.T, Jim Meehan, the pages pull from Meehan’s experience creating cocktails. This is best detailed in the comprehensive cocktail section: For each classic cocktail (including many you’ve never heard of), Meehan breaks down the origin, the logic behind the drink, and hacks to make a better version of it. He adds in his perfected recipes for each one. 

It also features an in-depth section on the history of spirits, from gin pirates to agave harvests. “It is a great book for novice, aspiring bartenders, but also great for entrepreneurs doing research on opening a bar or restaurant,” Camacho continues. Throughout the book, Meehan calls on industry friends to weigh in with tips and tricks to perfecting your cocktail-making.

Number of Recipes: 100 | Pages: 488 | Date Published: 2017

Best Graphics: Craft Cocktails at Home

What We Like
  • Includes information on the science of drinks

  • Answers all your burning drinks questions

  • Humorous

What We Don't Like
  • Might be too nerdy for some folks

  • Very technical

If you think the bar world is all suspenders and serious drinks, Kevin Liu infuses it with duct tape, quirky recipes, and many laughs along the way in "Craft Cocktails at Home". Highlights of the book include preserving ingredients (including juicing cucumbers and maximizing freshness in citrus), the science of shaking and stirring, how to make water taste the best, and making a DIY cold-smoker with just $20. Along the way, he illustrates the points via fun graphics, diagrams, formulas, and charts. 

To help explain, Liu rounded up taste scientists, engineers, and seasoned bartenders to break down innovative, delicious cocktails. HisClassics Hacked chapter covers the flavor profiles of classic cocktails, including the Sazerac, Martinez (also known as a martini), and mojito

Built for both the home and professional bartender, this in-depth guide shows you don’t need expensive tools to create boundary-pushing cocktails—in one section, Liu teaches readers to make a sous vide machine with household items. Pick up this book come gift-giving time for the cocktail geek in your life.

Number of Recipes: 65 | Pages: 254 | Date Published: 2013

Best Coffee Table Book: Cocktail Codex

What We Like
  • Teaches you to make your own recipes

  • Beautiful illustrations

  • Coffee table book quality

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

One of the newest books on the scene, "Cocktail Codex" is penned by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan, of the famed Death & Co. bar family in New York, Denver, and Los Angeles. 

This comprehensive primer on the art of mixing drinks is built for bartenders and drink-makers of every level. It reads like a textbook (albeit a gorgeous one), breaking down the six easy templates for creating cocktails: old-fashioneds, martinis, daiquiris, sidecars, whiskey highballs, and flips. Each section covers all the cocktails and riffs. Once these templates are mastered, "Cocktail Codex" gives readers the tools to understand, execute, and improvise classic cocktails and in turn, their own original cocktails. Illustrated diagrams help contextualize the information. 

The book is touted as a modern classic and was the first cocktail book to ever win the James Beard’s Book of the Year award. Elegant, glossy portraits of each cocktail make this book ideal for displaying.

Number of Recipes: 6 | Pages: 320 | Date Published: 2018

Best Single-Topic: Spirits of Latin America

What We Like
  • Deep dive into Latin spirits

  • Wonderful stories included

What We Don't Like
  • Only focuses on one type of spirit

  • Recipes are quite complicated

“I am a huge fan of 'Spirits of Latin America' by Ivy Mix," says Nate Fishman, bartender at Liquor Lab in New York City and brand ambassador for Santera Tequila. “She is the superstar behind Leyenda in Brooklyn and Speed Rack competitions hosted around the world.”

Part cocktail book, part travelogue, "Spirits of Latin America" details Mix’s time traveling (and drinking) her way through Latin America via stunning photographs and a catalog of over 100 recipes: from crowd-pleasing takes on pisco sours and margaritas to original drinks inspired by her travels.

Her story starts in Mexico, digging into tequila, mezcal, and other regional spirits. She follows the sugar trail through the Caribbean, then Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, covering agave, sugarcane, and grape spirits along the way. In addition to local spirits, her vivid writing captures the people and the soul behind local drinking cultures. “I have such an admiration for her knowledge of the cultures and spirits of Latin America,” Fishman explains. “This book will open many eyes to spirits they have never seen before."

Number of Recipes: 100 | Pages: 256 | Date Published: 2020

Best For Experimentation: Liquid Intelligence

What We Like
  • Scientific

  • Filled with deep-dive knowledge

What We Don't Like
  • Not for the new bartender

  • More focused on techniques rather than recipes

“My favorite cocktail book is 'Liquid Intelligence' by Dave Arnold,” describes Slava Borisov, a mixologist at Travelle at the Langham in Chicago. "Liquid Intelligence" helps make the physics of the mixing process and the chemistry of ingredients understandable. It has plenty of valuable suggestions that bring a wealth of inspiration and new ideas to your future cocktail creations.

In the pages, Arnold (co-owner of New York City’s Existing Conditions) takes us on a scientific journey through the cocktail world by turning classic cocktails on their head, questioning correct temperatures, carbonation, measurements, and acidity.

“The book is written from a scientist’s perspective, full of experiments, research, explanations, and proof of theory statements through practice,” Borisov says. “There are a lot of innovations and modern techniques explained such as fat washing, clarification, carbonation, nitro-muddling, and more.”

This book is definitely geared towards the science-loving cocktail enthusiasts, but mixed drink makers of all levels will enjoy Arnold’s playful writing and simple cocktail tweaks.

Number of Recipes: 120 | Pages: 320 | Date Published: 2014

Final Verdict

For an industry-favorite and absolute must-have for every drinks lover, revel in the excellence of Dale DeGroff's timeless classic "The Craft of the Cocktail" (view at Amazon). If you're just getting started, "The Joy of Mixology" by Gary Regan (view at Amazon) will help you hone your skills.

What to Look for in Bartending Guides and Cocktail Books

Variety

The perfect bartending guide covers a variety of topics, from learning about different spirits to perfecting your technique to making a wide range of cocktail recipes. You’ll also want the recipes to cover the spectrum, from stirred and shaken to sour and strong. Unless the book is a deep-dive on one type of liquid, recipes should cover most, if not all of the bases.

Quantity

Opt for a book that's packed with a large number of recipes and facts. While you won’t get through them all in one day, the book can act as a continued resource for future happy hours.

Visuals

Information is crucial to building out an excellent cocktail book; however, illustrations and images will also help you understand how to properly make each drink, and will help elevate the book to coffee table status.

FAQs

What beginner bottles and ingredients should every home bar have?

The basics are gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila and rum, plus bitters, but pick according to your taste and build out your bar from there. Pad out your offerings with flavored bitters, red and white vermouth (keep it in the fridge), Aperol, Lillet, and the like, depending on what cocktails you prefer. 

What type of glassware do you need for crafting cocktails at home?

You can never go wrong with a rocks glass, highball, Collins, coupe, and snifter. Check out our favorites of each.

What kind of cocktails should you serve at a dinner party?

Start off with a light, bubbly cocktail to get the energy flowing, and end the night with a bitter, boozy nightcap. Above all, pick cocktails you can make in batches so you’re not spending the entire night in the kitchen. 

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and experienced spirits and drinks writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for six years, has her BarSmarts and WSET certification, and has an enviable library of spirited books.

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