If you enjoy cooking, it's only natural that you assemble a library of cookbooks. Why shouldn't it be the same if you enjoy making cocktails?
Whether you're a seasoned pro bartender or a home-mixology enthusiast, a selection of boozy books will help improve your cocktail-making skills. There are so many different options: Some books cover the basics for beginners, some dive deep into cocktail history, and others narrow their focus to a particular ingredient or style. You can embark on complex DIY projects, be transported to the world's best drinking destinations, or simply start a conversation.
We combed through all the options—with insight provided by a few of the country's top bartenders—to make this list. Here are our favorite cocktail books right now.
The Craft of the Cocktail
This modern classic is considered an industry bible—an absolute must-own for anyone who makes cocktails professionally, or who's just interested in improving the quality of their drinks. It’s written by Dale DeGroff, known as the "King of Cocktails," a New York bartender who helped kick off the revival of classic mixology at the end of the 20th century. In addition to recipes, much of his technical expertise is imparted in these pages, including tips on how to perfect your technique, how to set up a bar properly, and how to use your tools correctly.
But, of course, there are also plenty of cocktail recipes. The book includes more than 500, drawn from DeGroff's collection of vintage drinks books, along with his own creations and those of contemporary bartenders that are now modern classics. There are primers on every major spirit category, sprinkled with anecdotes and fun facts about the booze world. It’s a great book to have around as a point of reference, or inspiration to make your own originals.
Price at time of publish: $39 (hardcover), $6 (Kindle)
Recipes: more than 500 | Pages: 240 | Published: 2002
Best for Beginners
Mixology for Beginners: Innovative Craft Cocktails for the Home Bartender
This book is perfect for someone who loves the creative drinks served at fancy bars but doesn't have a clue how to start re-creating them at home. Penned by sommelier, bartender, drinks blogger, and Liquor.com commerce editor Prairie Rose, the book includes a guide to stocking your own bar with liquor, glassware, and tools; a primer on the fundamentals of creating an original cocktail; a glossary of bar terms; and, of course, plenty of recipes.
These are sophisticated drinks, but they don't require obscure ingredients or multi-day sub-recipes for syrups and infusions—crack open the cover, and you'll be whipping up the basil gimlet and Negroni sbagliato (with prosecco) in no time. The chapters are organized by base spirit, but there's also an index that arranges the recipes by flavor profile. Want a drink that's sweet, sour, bitter, or bubbly? Pick your favorite and get to mixing.
Price at time of publish: $11 (paperback), $7 (Kindle)
Recipes: More than 70 | Pages: 166 | Date Published: 2021
Modern Classic Cocktails
The decades after Prohibition were not a great time for cocktail creativity in the U.S. But about 30 years ago, a dedicated group of bartenders started to revive the lost art of mixology. Cocktails caught on again, and now we're in a second golden age. The New York Times drinks writer Robert Simonson provides an overview of this new spirit-ual renaissance with his latest tome.
"Modern Classic Cocktails" tells the stories of more than 60 recent drinks, starting with the cosmopolitan and espresso martini of the late '80s and working its way up through concoctions invented in the 2010s that have gone worldwide. Along the way, Simonson interviews lots of today's leading bartenders, getting the stories behind their drinks, their bars, and their general philosophies.
Price at time of publish: $20 (hardcover), $12 (Kindle)
Recipes: more than 60 | Pages: 176 | Published: 2022
Good Drinks: Alcohol Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason
The fresh juices, homemade syrups, and creative flavor combinations that go into craft cocktails are just as tasty without booze, and in the last few years, non-alcoholic drinks sections have become a mainstay of top bar menus. Longtime food writer Julia Bainbridge has been on the cutting edge of this trend for years, and she spent a summer road trip around the country collecting dozens of virgin recipes from bars around the country for this book.
Far from Arnold Palmers and Shirley Temples, these "Good Drinks" include cocktails like a highball made with blackberry, mushrooms, and yogurt; cardamom- and star anise-infused blueberry juice to be served as a digestif, and even a homemade "vermouth" made using an array of exotic spices. One thing we love about this book is that each recipe has a "commitment level" rating: One dot is no harder than squeezing some citrus, pouring, and stirring, while four dots means it's a weekend project.
Price at time of publish: $23 (hardcover), $14 (Kindle)
Recipes: more than 100 | Pages: 176 | Published: 2020
Best for Tropical Drinks
Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails
You might associate tiki drinks with kitschy decor, too much sugar, and way too much rum, but tropically flavored cocktails can be sophisticated, too. Written by Shannon Mustipher, a longtime New York bartender and spirits educator, this book assembles a vast selection of creative drinks from old-timey favorites to new creations from contemporary bartenders. The book covers pre-tiki cocktails like the Cuban daiquiri and Martinican 'ti punch, faux-tropical classics like the mai tai and zombie, and lots more.
The key to these drinks' deliciousness is fresh juices, homemade syrups, and high-impact garnishes, all of which Mustipher guides you through with thorough instructions. And it's not just rum drinks in this book: There are tiki drinks based on vodka, whiskey, soju, and plenty of other spirits. You'll find yourself making banana infusions, slicing up pineapple fronds, and whipping up some of the most impressive cocktails you've ever had. There are chapters on all different types of drinks—sour, light-and-bubbly, savory, even frozen cocktails and punch bowls for a crowd.
Price at time of publish: $30 (hardcover)
Recipes: more than 90 | Pages: 192 | Published: 2019
Best Coffee Table Book
The Aviary Cocktail Book
Three-Michelin-star restaurant Alinea in Chicago is a trip into the culinary future, with food coming in unexpected forms like foams, spheres, and powders. Alinea chef Grant Achatz takes the same approach to drinks at The Aviary, a "molecular mixology" bar where you might shoot a slingshot at an ice sphere to release the cocktail inside, or have a Manhattan served in a bag full of everything bagel–scented vapor. "The Aviary Cocktail Book" has the complex procedures for lots of the bar's creations, lovingly documented photographically and packaged in a luxurious volume.
We're not going to lie: These recipes aren't easy. Making things like root beer caramel, bitters foams, creme de menthe spheres, and banana stock are time-consuming and take specialized equipment and ingredients. The large-format book, with huge full-page photos for every drink, is more for perusal than practical use at home. But it looks like the catalog for an exhibition of fine art, and in a way, it is.
Price at time of publish: $80 (hardcover)
Recipes: more than 100 | Pages: 444 | Published: 2018
Best for Entertaining
Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl
Perhaps the world's foremost drinks historian, David Wondrich won a James Beard Award for "Imbibe!", his book exploring classic American cocktails and the people behind them. In this follow-up, he turns to punch, a drink made to serve big groups that dates back to the 1600s, if not earlier. The engaging volume will give you a taste of the past, both with literal recipes and its fun-but-thoroughly-sourced stories of the people who made and drank these punches.
Each of the more than 40 recipes comes with a heavily researched backstory, a recipe as originally written, and Wondrich's notes on how to recreate it using modern ingredients and techniques. The tales behind these recipes include kings, popes, and pirates, and any of them is a good excuse to throw a party.
Price at time of publish: $27 (hardcover). $13 (Kindle)
Recipes: More than 40 | Pages: 320 | Date Published: 2010
Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions
Alex Day and David Kaplan are two of the most talented mixologists out there today. The pair is behind the famed Death & Co. bar family, which now has locations in New York, Denver, and Los Angeles, and in this book, they attempt to put forth a comprehensive theory of cocktail-making.
"Cocktail Codex" starts with a shocking proposition: There are only six different cocktails. It breaks down the basic formulas for the old fashioned, martini, Daiquiri, sidecar, highball, and flip, and then explains how every other drink is a variation or riff on one of those templates. The book dives deep into each, giving you the tools to understand, execute, and improvise. It's a bit textbook and a bit cookbook, breaking everything down on a truly elemental level. The book itself is also gorgeous, a weighty hardcover tome with beautiful photography that can live on the coffee table or behind the bar. It's the first-ever drinks-focused winner of the James Beard Award for cookbook of the year, and for good reason.
Price at time of publish: $40 (hardcover), $5 (Kindle)
Recipes: 6 | Pages: 320 | Published: 2018
Best for Pros (or Aspiring Pros)
Meehan's Bartender Manual
“'Meehan’s Bartenders Manual' is my all-time favorite cocktail book,” says Jose Medina Camacho of Automatic Seafood and Oysters, a top cocktail bar in Birmingham, Ala. “It teaches you about both classic and modern cocktails, and it is incredibly easy to navigate."
The titular Meehan is Jim, famed bartender and co-founder of P.D.T, the nouveau speakeasy at the heart of the New York City cocktail revival of the 2000s. The pages pull from the experiences of Meehan himself and a range of famous friends in the bar field, and they go way past just recipes. The book opens with a fun history of bars and cocktails, from the golden age of 1800s New Orleans to the drinks doldrums of the 1980s (symbolized by a soda gun). Other chapters cover bar design and tools, the science of how different spirits are made, and the art of service and hospitality.
Of course, the recipes are great, too. Each classic in the comprehensive cocktail chapter gets a thorough breakdown explaining what it is, how each ingredient fits in, and how you can use that to riff on it.
Price at time of publish: $40 (hardcover), $5 (Kindle)
Recipes: 100 | Pages: 488 | Published: 2017
A modern classic that's inspired a worldwide mixological revival, "The Craft of the Cocktail" is our top choice for the drinks book everyone needs. If you're just dipping your toe into craft cocktails, try "Mixology for Beginners," whose title really says it all.
What to Look for in Bartending Guides and Cocktail Books
Some bartending guides try to cover the whole world of cocktails, while others zoom in on one particular spirit, style, or other theme. Both can be great, depending on what you're looking for. A deep dive into tequila and its history might not be ideal for a person who needs an all-purpose recipe reference, but it's probably perfect for someone who loves margaritas, palomas, and other tequila cocktails.
"Mixing a cocktail" can encompass anything from combining whiskey and cola to whipping up spherified gels, fruit-and-spice infusions, and aromatic smoke—and cocktail books can range in complexity accordingly. Consider your amount of experience and how much drink-making gear you have (or are willing to invest in) before you jump into a really high-level book. On the other hand, bartending books can be purely aspirational, to enjoy the photos and dreaming about the drinks within.
Whether it's just for aesthetics or to show how finished recipes are supposed to be presented, photography is always important in cookbooks. But other imagery is important, too: Lots of the books above include illustrations that help understand how to use tools and all the steps to make each drink properly.
What cocktail ingredients should I keep in my home bar?
At its most basic, your home bar doesn't need to have ingredients on hand to make every possible cocktail; you just need the handful of ingredients for the drinks you like to drink!
But if you want to build a fairly comprehensive home bar, start with spirits: It's a good idea to have a bottle each of vodka, gin, rum, brandy, tequila, and whiskey. These cover the base ingredient for a majority of the cocktail recipes out there. Then you need mixers: vermouth (which comes in sweet red and dry white varieties, and should be stored in the fridge after opening), liqueurs, bitters, all of which come in countless varieties. What you should keep on hand depends on what you like to make most, but a bitter liqueur like Aperol or Campari is a very versatile choice for drinks like the negroni or spritz.
Don't forget non-alcoholic ingredients, either! Lemons and limes are a must-have, both for juice and as garnish, as is sugar (preferably in the form of simple syrup) and club soda. Fresh herbs like mint are nice for muddling, and other fruits and juices are an easy way to add new flavors to traditional cocktails.
What kind of glassware do you need for your home bar?
There are dozens of different shapes of drinking glass, each designed for a different type of beverage. You don't need all of them, but it's a good idea to have separate glassware for drinks served on the rocks and drinks served up. A rocks (aka old fashioned) glass is short and wide, made to hold a drink with ice cubes and leave plenty of room for melting and dilution. Stemmed glasses—coupes, martini glasses, wine glasses—are good for strained drinks, you you don't heat them up with your hand.
Beyond those two basic categories, there are also tall and skinny highball (aka Collins) glasses, made to hold fizzy drinks that have been "lengthened" with soda or sparkling wine; snifters for enjoying brandy or other straight spirits neat; and an array of specialized vessels for other beverages. But it's important to remember that the glass you serve a drink in makes less difference to the flavor than the ingredients that go into it. There's no Mixology Police that will come arrest you if you pour a martini into an old fashioned glass, or even (gasp!) a red plastic cup.
What bar tools do I need?
The three most important bar-specific tools you should have on hand are a cocktail shaker (for shaken drinks), a mixing glass (for stirred drinks), and a Hawthorne or julep strainer (which you can use with either one). Lots of the other essentials for making cocktails are things you probably already have on hand in the kitchen: a citrus juicer, a short-bladed knife for cutting garnishes, a vegetable peeler for making twists.
There are also tons of specialized cocktail tools that might not be necessities but expand your home-bar abilities. There are molds to make large ice cubes and spheres, carbonating devices for homemade sodas and infusions, scientifically advanced cocktail smokers, and more. These can save time and effort, they can add flavors you can't otherwise get in drinks, or they might just be fun toys to play with.
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.
This roundup was updated by The Spruce Eats commerce editor Jason Horn, who's been writing about drinks (and food) for more than 15 years. He's covered the molecule behind the banana flavor in Coors Light for Serious Eats, the surprisingly diverse bars of Antarctica for Playboy, and everything in between.