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”

  • 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.

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

  • 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…

  • 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

  • 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”.

  • 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:

    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’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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

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