10 Essential Cocktail Books: 6 Vintage, 4 Modern

The first book written about cocktail theory, and very likely the best book on the subject, too. Photo credit: Scott Gordon Bleicher

In our latest drinks issue, we took a look inside Greg Boehm’s vast library of cocktail books. He’s responsible for what might be the world’s largest collection of cocktail texts with over 3,000 titles dating all the way back to the 17th century.

As Elizabeth G. Dunn writes: “Boehm is a natural candidate for cocktail-literature obsession. For one thing, he owns an independent book imprint, Mud Puddle Inc., as well as both a high-end barware manufacturing business called Cocktail Kingdom and the East Village bar Boilermaker… [his] office has become a cocktail nerd’s mecca and the industry’s unofficial research library. Visitors include celebrated drinks writers Robert Simonson and David Wondrich and famed bartenders Jim Meehan, Toby Cecchini and Misty Kalkofen.”

His expertise begs the question: What are the essential texts for any cocktail enthusiast? Lucky for us, Boehm gave us his top recommendations for both old and new school texts:

Essential vintage titles:

  • How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas
    The first cocktail book ever from the first celebrity bartender. Make the “Japanese Cocktail,” aka a sweet drink for which you’ll need orgeat: an almond syrup spiked with orange flower water.
  • Harry Johnson’s Bartenders Manual by Harry Johnson
    A classic book with great advice for the working bartender that ranges from liquor storage to choosing a location for a bar to drink service that, one hundred years later, is still relevant in many ways. Try the “Bijou,” which has big boozy flavor with equal parts gin, vermouth and chartreuse.
  • The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury
    The first book written about cocktail theory, and very likely the best book on the subject, too. I suggest the “Larchmont:” a white rum based cocktail, created by the author and named for his favorite town in Westchester County.
  • The Flowing Bowl by The Only William (William Schmidt)
    “The Only William” invented a different drink every day (or so he said). One could arguably consider him the first modern cocktail bartender. Try the “Glorious Fourth” — who would have thought that ice cream would be used in cocktails in 1891
  • Jones’ Complete Bar Guide by Stan Jones
    The largest collection of drink recipes ever that influenced bartenders who were key in the cocktail renaissance. The author’s obsession with all things alcohol shines through. Recreate the “Mexican El Diablo” including tequila, crème de cassis and ginger beer.
  • Old Waldorf Bar Days by Albert Stevens Crockett
    This is a fantastic resources of what people were drinking directly after Prohibition. An important note: The recipes have been filtered through people’s memories and, as a result, are not always precise. Go for the “Bronx” cocktail, which incorporates equal parts gin and vermouth with orange juice and bitters. Crockett offers a few variations to cater to taste.

Essential modern titles:

  • The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan
    A cocktail book from the bar that sparked the modern speakeasy revival, it presents an impressive collection of contemporary cocktail recipes. Make the “Benton’s Old Fashioned,” a mainstay drink on the PDT menu. It’s the classic cocktail, infused with a bit of bacon and maple syrup.
  • Imbibe by David Mondrich
    A book tracing the history of the cocktail from the world’s foremost cocktail historian. I recommend the “Clover Club,” which is a gin-raspberry tipple favored in pre-Prohibition era social clubs, updated for modern measurements.
  • Potions of the Caribbean by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry
    This is the tiki book from the tiki expert. Berry traces the history of tiki drinks from Columbus’ arrival in the New World to the present day and provides plenty of recipes as he goes. Go for the “Queen’s Park Hotel Super Cocktail” that includes vermouth, making this drink a rarity in the Tiki drink world.
  • The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique by Jeffrey Morganthaler
    The Bar Book is full of practical advice on techniques from a contemporary bartender at the top of the game. Try the Kingston Club – a drink well worth the effort of dusting off that bottle of Drambuie in the back of the liquor cabinet.
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