Just like naturally talented bakers and chefs work off a recipe, there should be some kind of academic base for our home mixology. And don’t worry. There are plenty of bartenders and enthusiasts out there willing to help us build that base. These are the best cocktail recipe books for your home bar.
The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual
The Dead Rabbit floats around the top of pretty much every “Best Bar Ever” list, so you know we have to start with their cocktail book. They have about fifty pages of background on the bar and the basics of mixology, then get into the recipes. Some come with descriptions while others are just the recipes. Either way though, you’re getting guidance from some of the best cocktail inventors in the country, if not the world.
To Have and Have Another
We liked this one when we wrote it up for a product post, we like it now when we’re including it in a roundup. The main attraction here is the research and suggested reading attached to the drinks. Each recipe comes with a few paragraphs relating Hemingway’s life or work to the cocktail and a recommendation for a novel excerpt or short story that features the drink somehow. It does a lot to reinforce just how boozy some literary figures are, for better and for worse.
Here’s another literary entry because apparently we’re in a bookish mood. The bulk of this book is built on English major puns, though it ends up being more endearing than that initially sounds. What you end up with is a bunch of nerdy twists on classic cocktails, which could easily turn into a mess of sugary syrups and cheap spirits, so we respect the authors for not taking the easy way out. We also appreciate the unnecessary but welcome addition of appetizer and bar food recipes at the end of the book.
Booze and Vinyl
Let’s stay in the same vein but switch media. Booze and Vinyl matches up classic rock with mixed drinks, the way all those glorious maniacs always wanted anyway. Each artist comes with liner notes that talk about the album and put it in its cultural context. Then you get a recommendation on how to dial the theme up to 11 with the “Before You Drop the Needle” section. Finally, there are Side A and Side B cocktails for your drinking/listening session. This is the kind of book that lends itself to a full night.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails
We’re suckers for a historical angle on cocktails and Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails goes above and beyond. It’s an exhaustively researched deep dive into the history of mixing drinks, revives extinct cocktails, and details ingredients that people haven’t used for decades, all of it using the kind of sources you’d usually have to get Indiana Jones to track down for you. The most recent edition numbers 100 recipes, to which we say, how the hell are people forgetting how to make all these cocktails?
The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique
Not many of the other books on this list look as closely at technique as this one does. It focuses on how the author builds his own cocktails, mostly through his approach to different ingredients or mixing methods, and gets more complicated as it goes on. It’s the sort of approach that generally does a better job at teaching you why something’s good instead of simply what’s good. It’s the “teach a man to fish” method of mixology.
The Bartender’s Guide
It’s surprising, but the cocktail as we know it is a very recent invention. Cocktails as we know them can be attributed to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, who first published The Bartender’s Guide in 1862. That means you’re getting recipes straight from the source with this one. This reprinting is even meant to reflect 1860s printing and binding, with thicker paper and a heavier front and back cover.
The 12 Bottle Bar
One of the major hurdles you have to jump when you’re putting together your home bar is swallowing the massive expenditure that is stocking it. The 12 Bottle Bar tackles exactly that problem. There are hundreds of recipes in the book, all of which are made from the same 12 bottles. Some people use it as a starting point for a home bar, but we’ll defend it as a destination too. Not everyone needs to run a speakeasy out of their living room. Some people just want to have a solid repertoire.
We’ve noticed a trend where some cocktail bars will have pages long ingredient lists for their cocktails, thinking complication is what makes something good. If that were true, people would have stopped ordering Old Fashioneds years ago. 3-Ingredient Cocktails throws all that pretension out and brings you the best recipes for the simplest cocktails, all of which will impress whoever you’ve got over.
The Ultimate Bar Book
The Ultimate Bar Book is one of the most in-depth guides you could buy and has everything you need to take you from complete amateur to competent intermediate, and maybe a little further. Besides laying out every single thing you could possibly want to know, the author’s included a few of his own cocktail inventions and some hangover treatments along the way. It’s nice to know he cares.
Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails
Death & Co. has three locations across the US, one in New York, one in Denver, and one in LA. With a little practice using this book, we’d say you could safely call your own house the fourth. Recipe-wise, it’s a good mix of Death & Co’s signature drinks and classic cocktails. The book also goes in-depth about Death & Co’s approach to mixology, with sections devoted to their philosophy of mixology, the tools every home bar needs, and how they think about what goes into their drinks.
We understand the place for mocktails in the same way we understand why someone would go for a nonalcoholic beer. You’re not drinking but want to feel included. Good Drinks gives you enough recipes that any teetotaler, temporary or otherwise, will have just as good a night as anyone else.