Ten Books Every Bartender Should Own

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Recently, over at the Epicurious blog they had a post detailing their ten must-read books for cooks and gastronomes. I figured, “What a great idea, I should steal this for my own website!”

So here are my recommendations for the top ten books any bartender or home mixologist should keep within arm’s reach at all times.

1. Cosmopolitan: A Bartender’s Life by Toby Cecchini


Cecchini nails the quotidian life of a bartender down with the sort of accuracy that only a true lifer could. A must-read for anyone currently or formerly in the business, or just those with mild flirtations or aspirations.

You can buy this brilliant take on the business here. Better yet, pick up an extra copy and leave it as a tip for your favorite barkeep – if they haven’t read it already.

2. The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan

If Gary’s chapter on drink families were the only chapter in this book, it would still be worth the cover price. This is probably my all-time favorite guide to mixology and bartending, all wrapped up in one place.

You can buy the Joy of Mixology here. Put it someplace handy, use the hell out of it, and then pick up another copy when you can no longer read the first.

3. Kindred Spirits 2 by F. Paul Pacult

I have a pretty good palate and an okay memory, so I feel comfortable with my own assessment of the spirits I carry behind my bar. Paul Pacult has a mind-numbingly brilliant palate and is a terrific, no-nonsense writer. So rather than rely solely on my own take on the brands I choose to stock, I also keep a copy of Kindred Spirits 2 behind the bar at all times. It’s an essential reference to the vast sea of flavors we’re confronted with every day.

Any bar serious about spirits has this book somewhere in the building. Grab a copy here and do the same.

4. Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century by Paul Harrington

This is the book that I had at my side for years as I taught myself to make cocktails the right way. Paul’s attitude toward the craft is opinionated and brilliant. I think about the words in this book nearly every night I’m behind the bar.

Sadly, this one’s out of print, so plan on spending a pretty large sum if you want to buy one of your own – but it’s worth it. If you do stumble across a copy in a used bookstore or garage sale, grab it without hesitation.

5. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

On Food and Cooking

This book is subtitled The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and chapter nine is the most in-depth, scientific analysis of the production of alcohol you’re going to find anywhere. Read it once, slowly, and then give yourself some time to digest. It’s a heavy read but worth the workout.

He’s not as fun as Alton Brown, but he may have taught the man everything he knows. Pick up your own copy here.

6. Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails

This book is the bible of cocktail archaeology, which has inspired a new generation of cocktail enthusiasts – just look at the vast proliferation of cocktail blogs for proof.

I’ll pick this one up from time to time, turn to a random page, and whip up one of whichever I find. I’ve never been disappointed yet. You can pick up a copy here.

7. The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock

The problem with huge drink encyclopedias is that they often contain recipes of questionable origin and proportions. This book is no different in that regard, yet it still remains the quintessential reference on Prohibition-era drinking. I often absentmindedly turn to it first.

Buy The Savoy Cocktail Book here, and then follow along here as Erik Ellestad makes every single drink in the book and reports back with a write-up complete with photo. Amazing.

8. A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage

Once again, you can’t begin to understand where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Not content to be a mere history of beverages, this book is truly a history of human civilization as seen through beer, wine, coffee, tea, spirits, and Coca-Cola.

I find myself having to buy this one from time to time, as it seems to be the first books I want to loan out. Get yourself a loaner here.

9. Straight Up or On The Rocks by William Grimes

Straight Up or On The Rocks

New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes understands something a lot of people take for granted: the cocktail, like jazz music or mass production, is one of America’s greatest contributions to the world. Follow along as he details why this is, and provides additional commentary to augment the experience.

The good news is that a book this good is fairly inexpensive and plentiful. Pick up a copy here.

10. What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

Sometimes consuming alcohol is something done alone at an airport bar, a necessary drug dose taken before a bumpy ride. But when alcohol shows its true beauty is when it is enjoyed with good food. This book not only helps take some of the mystery out of pairing alcohol with food, it also helps open the door to approaching booze from a more culinary perspective.

This one came out just last year, so it still runs a little steep. Pick up a copy here, or just add it to your Wish List and hope that someone takes notice this season.

I’m sure you’ve seen some glaring omissions on this list, so feel free to leave your bartender book recommendations in the comments below.

30 Replies to “Ten Books Every Bartender Should Own”

  • Agreed, Darryl. I’m reading “The Joy of Drinking” right now, and it’s absolutely sublime.

    However, I’ve never been a fan of the recipes found in the Mr. Boston’s Guide.

  • Darryl says:

    I’d like to second Lance’s suggestion of “The Joy of Drinking”. More importantly, why has Mr. Boston Platinum Edition not even recieved honorable mention?

  • David, I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of the popular drinks being created by bartenders out there are just plain…gross. But I don’t think that’s the book’s fault.

    I always try to talk someone into something better, “Lemon Drop, huh? Have you ever tried a Sidecar?”, but when that fails, it’s nice to know that I’ve got the recipe for just about anything in my little library behind the bar.

  • david shenaut says:

    I suppose I should be more humble, still I think we should have some standards. Should I be expected to properly produce and be proud of such drinks as “Top Gun”, “Train Wreck”, and “Tripple PHAT Limeade” (look these up for a laugh they are all on pg. 153). Sure lets give people what they want. You know what… I change my mind I retract my last statement. I am going to bring this book to work tonight. I have ran out of bar jokes.

  • David, I’ve recommended the Bartender’s Black Book before. I think it’s a great resource for all those drink recipes that we all have either no capacity or no patience for.

    I can never remember what goes in a Brave Bull, a Sex on the Beach, a Purple Hooter or a Hop Skip and Go Naked. I don’t get orders for them that often, and I don’t really care that much.

    But when someone comes in to my bar and I can’t convince them to try one of our fabulous cocktails, I’m always more than happy to make them whatever they’d like – I can almost always find the recipe in the Black Book.

  • david shenaut says:

    The Bartender’s Black Book should never be present behind any self-respecting bar. I still own it but because it soaks up beer better than most coasters. Books like that have done to cocktails what Redbull has done to young the impressionable palates that I turn back to the door nightly when I refuse to make any drinks with “pucker”.

  • Trevor says:

    I have shelf full of bartender guides and cocktail books.

    In my experience, the Bartender’s Black Book is indispensable. I’ve purchased one for every bartender I’ve ever trained.

    I’ve also found great inspiration in the Diffordguide series of cocktail books.

    Diffordguide to Cocktails
    Simon Difford

    Bartender’s Black Book
    Stephen Kittredge

  • This thread is getting out of control! I’m going to have to add those to my wish list, Erik, I’ve already dropped my monthly book allowance in one week…

  • Couple Alcohol trivia and anecdote type books I quite enjoyed were “Alcoholica Esoterica” by Ian Lendler and “Mondo Cocktail” by Christine Sismondo.

  • Hmmmm… I haven’t read that one yet, Lance. However, thanks to Amazon’s used selection and ten bucks, one is soon to be arriving on its way to my house.

  • Lance Mayhew says:

    Hey, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Barbara Holland’s “The Joy of Drinking” yet. Its a small book, but an essential read for any bartender.

  • Donny says:

    To take this thread a little off course… A neighborhood Manhasset bar is a lead character in “The Tender Bar” by JR Moehringer, a wonderfully-woven boy-to-man memoir. Warm, funny, sad, outrageous — a must read.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Oh Sean, I’ve been a huge fan of that book since it came out! Another one I considered for this list, but alas, ten is a tough call to make…

  • Sean Bigley says:

    Hey Jeffrey.

    Have you checked out “The Art of the Bar”? It’s one of my “new” favorites. Check it out if you get a chance.

  • I have read “History Of The in Six Glasses” many times it was given to me by an english regular of mine. I would have done much better in world history had my teachers…. anyway the book belongs on the list. I also now have plenty of shopping to do.

  • Sweet. I actually own two of those books already(the complete book of spirits and what to drink with what you eat)

  • Check your email, Kevin.

  • To take us totally off topic,
    Stephen, I had a Hitachino White Ale last night. I thought it was fantastic. Have you tried it? I’ve heard that Hitachino has a few very good beers.

  • Jeffrey, email me your address and I’ll post off a copy of my decade-out-of-print tome, A Taste for Beer, still one of my personal favourites out of all my books. Also the only one I have stocks of…

  • Jeff Frane says:

    Great. Now I have a stack of new books and I’m down $60. I could have bought drinks with that $60!

  • Jeffrey says:

    I’ve wanted to attend Cocktails in the Country for a while now, the timing has sadly never been convenient for me. One day…

    I did have the good fortune to meet Dale DeGroff in Las Vegas earlier this year, and he is as pleasant as he is brilliant. His book “The Craft of the Cocktail” was on my original list until I remembered the Harold McGee book.

    And as for Stephen Beaumont… I’ve been meaning to give his books a read for quite a while now. Gawsh, this shopping list is getting longer by the day!

  • For those who really want to step their skills up Gary Regan and wife, Mardee, run a 2-day program called “Cocktails in the Country”.

    Dale DeGroff is a nice guy, consummate professional and I love his “The Craft of the Cocktail” book.

    Also some guy named Stephen Beaumont knows a fair bit about beers as well and has written some books that should be in every beer lover’s library. 🙂

  • Jeffrey says:

    I haven’t but it’s another one of those that I’ve been wanting to read.

    I’m sure anyone reading an erudite website such as mine is familiar with the works of Bernard DeVoto, but in a nutshell he was one of the great American historians, a celebrated writer and editor and the curator of Mark Twain’s writings.

    In 1951 he wrote The Hour, which to the best of my understanding is a treatise on the sacred qualities of the great American bar. An excerpt:

    Never be cynical about bars, though it is right to be wary. A glory of American culture is that there is no place so far and no village so small that you cannot find a bar when you want to. (True, in some of the ruder states it must present itself fictitiously as a club or nostalgically as a speakeasy.) Many are more resourceful than the label admits, many others water their whiskey, many are bad or even lousy. Amost all provide instructions for the inquiring mind in the cubic capacity of glassware and how the eye may be misled by the shape and the hand by weight. But do not scorn any of them, not even the neon-lighted or the television-equipped, for any may sustain you in a needful hour. And each of us knows a fair number of good bars and perhaps even a great one. The good bar extends across America, the quiet place, the place that answers to your mood, the upholder of the tavern’s great tradition, the welcomiing shelter and refuge and sanctuary — and any man of virtue and studious habits may count on finding it. If you hear of any I’ve missed, let me know. Let us all know.

    Yeah, it looks like something right up my alley. You can find a few fairly expensive copies here, but as far as I know it’s not in reprint.

    Oh, and that excerpt came from here.

  • kevin l says:

    Speaking of “quoting ridiculous prices”, have any of you (or anyone reading this) read the Bernard DeVoto book “The Hour”? I’ve always wanted to check it out and I really enjoyed some of his other work, but i have a hard time with the idea of shelling out 80 to 150 bucks for a book.

  • Jeff Frane says:

    I could have used this list a week or so back, when I was busy phoning Ryan from the cocktail section at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t come away with any of these, mostly because they didn’t have the Savoy book at all.

    The Beer Companion is a good option, and I would highly recommend Jackson’s book on Belgian beers. There are a lot of questionable titles in the beer field, but both of those are solid.

    Eh, looks like the Companion is out of print and Amazon is quoting ridiculous prices. You can borrow my copy, or ask Ryan if he’s got one.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Kevin, “The Gentleman’s Companion” and “Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide” were both on my list, as was “And a Bottle of Rum”, but man, oh, man, keeping it down to ten is pretty tough!

    And great inclusions, Stephen. The beer and wine books are pretty glaring omissions to be sure. I didn’t include Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion because I don’t actually own it, so maybe it’s now time for me to do a little shopping of my own…

  • An impressive and mostly well-thought-out list, Jeffrey. BUT, shouldn’t every good bartender have at least a rudimentary understanding of wine and beer, as well? That being the case, and I very much think it is, I’ll cast a vote for the inclusion of Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine and Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, the latter surely the best beer book ever written.

  • kevin l says:

    Great list. A few others I like: “The Gentleman’s Companion” by Charles Baker, for the writing alone. A great historical perspective can be found in “And a Bottle of Rum” by Wayne Curtis. And for those that want to dive in deep for some new ideas, I really like the other book by Dornenburg and Page called “Culinary Artistry”, “Aroma” by Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson and “The Joy of Pickling” by Linda Ziedrich. Oh I almost forgot one of my favorites “The World Guide to Spirits, Aperitifs and Cocktails” by Tony Lord. Amazing pictures and artwork. I should stop now.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Erik, I came very close to including the Felten book on this list (I had the very good fortune to receive an advance copy last month) but ultimately William Grimes narrowly edged it out.

    However, look for a full review when as soon as there’s a cover image available!

  • Cool, Jeff, thanks for the shout out, and for reminding me I need to read McGee and Dornenburg/Page.

    Maybe I can get through them while I wait for the Wondrich and Felten books in November…

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