With so many amazing cocktail books coming out recently (including 2020), it can be hard to decide what to buy. Luckily, I’ve purchased quite a few and have looked through many more. I think great cocktail books bring the reader more than recipes and amazing photos. They also include something unique like a story or some background on the drinks included in the book. I have thoroughly enjoyed many of these cocktail books from 2018 and 2019 that I think you’ll like. There are also few that I need to check out that look promising. Let’s dive in!
Best Cocktail Books of 2018
Cocktails Across America by Diane Lapis and Anne Peck-Davis
Following Prohibition, American bartenders were developing new cocktails as fast as people could drink them. With a thirsty crowd, drink experimentation was in and anything was possible. The ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s ushered in new classics like the Mai Tai, the Daiquiri, and the Margarita. Bartenders of the day also brought us drinks like the Red Snapper, the Santa Fe Cooler, and Cooper’s Ranch Punch, which are all but forgotten. Cocktails Across America not only explores these drinks, but does it through original memorabilia and illustrations.
The book also contains more than 50 vintage cocktail recipes, a few with modern versions. Whether you’re a history buff, a graphic art aficionado, or a cocktail connoisseur, there’s something for everyone in this book.
Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan
Not only is Cocktail Codex one of my favorite cocktail books from 2018 and 2019, it’s already become a cult classic. If you read the previous book Death & Co. wrote, you’ll understand why. With a masterful team of bartenders, this book brings to life numerous riffs on the six classic cocktails. Each chapter explores one of the base classics and explains what tweaks are made to create the riffs. For example, in the Daiquiri chapter, if you experiment with the balance or the lime juice, you’ll find yourself making a Pisco sour or a Mai Tai. Perhaps even more helpful, are the diagrams that help you see the “family tree” of drinks.
Finally, this might only matter to me, but I like the size and shape of this book. It’s large enough that the pages stay open on their own. If you’ve ever fussed with a smaller book while trying to cook or mix a drink, you know what I mean.
Drinking Like Ladies by Kirsten Amann and Misty Kalkofen
Drinking Like Ladies is a book I mentioned in my last reading list post. (I swear I read more than cocktail books.) I’ve since had the chance to read it. It’s an amazing celebration of women behind the bar and around the world. The book dares the reader to redefine what it means to “drink like a lady”. No dainty or simple cocktails to be found in here. Most recipes contain four or more ingredients and many require a separate element like a syrup or an infused spirit to be prepared.
Each recipe is created by a female bartender and pays homage to a woman, both living and departed. Every recipe sits opposite the story of the woman being honored. It’s a beautiful collection of toasts to extraordinary woman. The book is pulled together with an illustration of each woman. Some of my favorite bartenders are highlighted including Jill Cockson (Swordfish Tom’s and Drastic Measures), Sylvi Roy (Portland Hunt + Alpine Club), and Ivy Mix (Leyenda).
Best Cocktail Books of 2019
Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails by Shannon Mustipher
I used to be someone who had tried tiki drinks at bars and decided they were too sweet. Then, I discovered that properly made tiki drinks are an art. Art that includes a heavy dose of balance in flavors and ingredients. Just adding pineapple juice to rum and coconut puree does not a tiki drink make. And while many tiki drinks do require multiple ingredients, that’s really part of the fun.
Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails is primarily about drink recipes And many of them are more straightforward than some you’ll find. Although, you will find recipes in ounces and others in milliliters, which is likely only to strike fear in those of us living in Myanmar (or Burma), Liberia and the United States. The book also includes sections about spirits, ingredients, tools, and even music to sip with.
The book’s author is a Brooklyn-based rum expert, so it’s no surprise that you’ll learn a lot about rum while reading through the book. Another highlight, besides the incredible drink photography, are all of the beautiful tiki ceramics used throughout. And, even if you’re not a home or professional bartender, this book looks great on any coffee table.
Floral Libations: 41 Fragrant Drinks + Ingredients by Cassie Winslow
Floral Libations is full of photographs so beautiful, they almost look like paintings. Photographer Doan Ly is also a floral designer. The book is a foray into the edible and floral-flavored world of cocktails, mocktails, and fancy coffee drinks. As a home bartender, I have only just begun to grow and understand using flowers in drinks. This book took my knowledge to the next level with details on how to stock your pantry, where to buy flowers, and what other ways you can use the ingredients in your home and beauty routines.
If you’re curious about what types of recipes they cover, it’s quite a range. Everything from rose sea salt to lavender syrup to hibiscus bitters is covered, including drinks that feature them. One of my favorite drinks is the Plum Rosewater Gin and Tonic. Most of the recipes in the book make 2 or 4 cocktails, so it’s perfect for a tea party or brunch with friends. If you’re looking for a beautiful gift (I received my copy this way) or some inspiration for your cocktail creations, this is the book for you!
Spirits Sugar Water Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World by Derek Brown and Robert Yule
If 2018 and 2019 had a theme, it might have been tracing cocktail and spirit histories. Spirits Sugar Water Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World is in line with that trend. Most everyone has heard about Prohibition, but what about the Whiskey Rebellion or what happened when Hawaii becoming the 50th U.S. state? This book covers all of those events, which brought about the rise and fall and rise again of cocktails in America.
Along the way, you’ll also meet the people who brought us drinks including those that benefitted from ice-shipping and the inventor of the Sherry Cobbler. Between the backdrop of history and culture, you’ll also find 50 recipes for rediscovered classics and original drinks.
Understanding Mezcal by James Schroeder
Mmm, mezcal has quickly become one of my favorite spirits. Its smoky and rich flavor used to confound me as a home bartender, but then I learned more about balance. Mezcal also comes in so many flavorful expressions. I love it not only for the flavors but also for its heritage. Most mezcals are made in small batches by long family lines of Mezcaleros (craftsmen who make mezcal). In Understanding Mezcal, author and agave expert James Schroeder shares his life’s work with readers. The book is truly an encyclopedia that will help you get what all the hype is about. (And once you’ve tasted mezcal, you’ll know it’s not hype at all.) The book includes more than 70 hand-drawn illustrations by Mexico City-based illustrator Polly Jiménez. And to round it all out as a must-read book for your list, the tone is upbeat and humorous. Cheers!
Hopefully you’ve discovered a new book or two among these cocktail books from 2018 or 2019 that you had previously missed. The great thing about cocktail and spirit books is that they don’t really go out of style. And building a library, along with your home bar, is just another way to hone your craft as a bartender. Cheers!