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The longer that bars remain partially (or completely) closed, the longer you may feel like exchanging your quarantine bread-making hobby for a decidedly boozier option. You don’t have to throw away your sourdough starter, but it’s easier than you think to learn how to make cocktails at home without the upscale prices of a fancy bar.
There are always alcohol subscription boxes or delivery services available right now that can ship wine, beer, and even pre-mixed cocktails to your door in a snap. But you can abide by stay-at-home orders while also learning to experiment with throwing together your own mixed drinks. With alcohol sales on the rise across the country, and more people wanting to try out some kitchen mixology, we’ve rounded up the best cocktail recipe books that will help you make bar-quality drinks worthy of a night on the town.
You don’t have to have a home bar fully set up to start making drinks, or have a pantry stocked up with specialty liquors. But we do recommend getting yourself a versatile cocktail kit to start, no matter what your skill level. The recipes you choose will determine what tools you want in your bartending arsenal—some of the books below will teach you how to push the boundaries of mixology, while others might just require a decent cocktail shaker and some high-quality spirits.
What Are the Best Cocktail Recipe Books?
Bartending might seem like an intimidating skill to learn, but these books are well worth the read for cocktail-making technique as well as recipes. We’ve chosen a list of some of the most useful cocktail recipe cookbooks from award-winning mixologists, drink experts, and bartenders.
1. BEST FOR BEGINNERS: The 12 Bottle Bar
The book is based on an intriguing idea—can a home bar be complete with only 12 bottles of spirits? The answer is a resounding yes, as husband-and-wife authors and cocktail enthusiasts David Solomson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson take you through over 200 mixed drinks, using a fairly bare bones but innovative guide to cover all your drink-making basics from Manhattans to Mint Juleps.
Some choices might be head-scratchers, such as picking genever over bourbon for one of the bottle picks. You’ll also technically need more bar staples—like bitters and simple syrup—than just the main bottles, but the upside is the book avoids overly complex drinks with expensive ingredients that you’d only ever use a splash or an ounce of. Appealing for budget-conscious bartenders and experienced pros alike, this book proves that less really is more when it comes to making top-notch cocktails.
2. BEST MIXOLOGY SCIENCE: Liquid Intelligence
Like Bill Nye meets America’s Test Kitchen, this recipe book highlights the science and technique behind modern mixology. Author Dave Arnold and his group of collaborators at Booker & Dax, a high-tech bar in NYC, have meticulously-tested every aspect that goes into a traditional cocktail from the size and color of ice, to the sweetness of mixers, bottling versus shaking certain drinks.
There’s a lot of practical tips in on how to stock your home bar, and recipes applicable to home bartenders, like pitcher drinks for a crowd. But there are also slightly mad science-y chapters with techniques using nitro-muddling, hot pokers, fat washing, and carbonation if you want to get real gastro-experimental. If you want to know the “why?” on how a good cocktail comes together just as much as the “how”, this is the book for you.
3. BEST FOR LEVELING UP SKILLS: The New Craft of the Cocktail
Widely known as the “father of craft cocktails,” author Dale Degroff brings decades of knowledge as a pioneer of mixology together into a 240-page bartending masterclass. This updated guide features over 500 recipes, bartending techniques, as well as in-depth histories behind the creation of iconic drinks. For amateur bartenders, there’s a wealth of knowledge on how to choose the right ingredients, how to develop a simple yet balanced mixed drink, and standard drink lingo everyone should learn. There are also specific liquor recommendations, so you’ll never mix the wrong whiskey into your Old-Fashioned ever again. Degroff shines at making readers feel like insiders in cocktail culture, even if you’re not in the industry.
4. MOST COMPREHENSIVE: The Joy of Mixology
If you have The Joy of Cooking in your kitchen, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have The Joy of Mixology right next to it. This tome of a recipe book is like the encyclopedia of cocktail-making, as comprehensive and complete of a breakdown on ingredients, technique, and liquors as you can get. The book has a unique and analytical drink categorization system for bartenders who not only want to have the basics memorized, but want to dip their toes into recipe development too. With 350 recipes, you can master the basics with a nuanced understanding of why the flavors and drink pairings work.
5. BEST NON-ALCOHOLIC: Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge
Whether it’s Dry January, Sober October, or any other time of the year, sometimes you just want a really solid mocktail. Author Julia Bainbridge makes it clear that you don’t need a reason to mix up delicious and nonalcoholic drink creations like “Cherry, Ginger & Coconut Cream Ale” or a “Honeydew-Avocado Fresca.”
Named as one of the best cookbooks of 2020 by Bon Appetít, anyone and everyone can enjoy these recipes that span a variety of ingredients and types of beverage, from brunch cocktails to after-dinner digestifs. The cocktails are playful (some with names like “Don’t Touch My Car Keys”) without being overly cutesy—this book is a reminder that there are adults that want creative, thoughtful drinks, not just fillers for fruit juice and seltzer. Although, if you want a seltzer drink, this book will show you how to mix up something innovative.
6. BEST HISTORICAL: Imbibe! by David Wondrich
Winner of a James Beard Award, author David Wondrich takes readers through the wild and wondrous history behind your favorite cocktails, spirits, and liquors. Historical notes contextualize 100 cocktail recipes, with humorous and engaging commentary on how the craft drink as we know it came to be (such as the first American cocktail—the Mint Julep). It’s a great resource if you want foundational knowledge of cocktails like sours, fizzes, toddies, and more. Whether you’re a history buff, a mixology buff, or just a fan of good storytelling, there’s something for everyone in this recipe book.