The Best Books About Cocktails and Booze

I’m a lifelong reader, in addition to being a book critic for the past many years, so when I began my education in cocktails and spirits, it was inevitable that I turned to books for information. Over the past few years, I’ve collected the best volumes for my library that I can find. Poring over them has taught me most of what I know, and the experience has been invaluable.

Here are several of the books that I have learned from or enjoyed the most. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but if you’re looking to learn more, these would be a great place to start. If you have any favorites you’d like to suggest, please leave a comment below.

(Note that I’ve left several of the classics off this list, either because they’re out-of-print, expensive, or otherwise hard to get. I wanted to recommend things that people can easily find if they’re curious.)

The Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master Bartender by Dale DeGroff

Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail was the first drinks book I read, so it will always have a special place in my heart. DeGroff is a legendary bartender for good reason — he was the crucial figure in jump-starting the craft cocktail movement of the 1990’s and the return of bartending to its historical roots. Filled with great recipes and great stories, this is invaluable and a terrific read.

Beachbum Berry Remixed by Jeff Berry

The book that taught me how to Tiki. I only had a vague knowledge of Tiki drinks and the men who created them before I read Jeff Berry’s books, but he started me down the path to what has become my favorite “genre” of cocktails. It’s hard to overstate the importance of his work on modern drinking. (Plus, if it hadn’t been for this book, there would be no Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde.)

Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson

A vastly entertaining book from the former spirits columnist of The Washington Post. Jason Wilson traveled far and wide, searching out the best in booze, and he recounted his adventures in this volume. This is a book that a general reader — as opposed to just a cocktail enthusiast — can definitely enjoy.

How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well by Eric Felten

Another book that the average reader with only a modest interest in drinking can still appreciate. Eric Felten wrote about booze for The Wall Street Journal for many years, and this brings together some of his best work. In it, Felten examines our enduring cultural connection to drinking, relating the history of a variety of cocktails with interesting and often amusing stories.

Kindred Spirits 2 by F. Paul Pacult

A comprehensive guide to spirits from the Man with the Golden Palate. F. Paul Pacult is the dean of spirits critics, and I’ve learned more about tasting spirits from him than anyone else. This book is a little outdated now, but it’s definitely still worth reading. Here’s hoping he published a new edition soon! (Its an expensive book, but if it stops you from buying even a couple bottles of bad booze, it’s worth it.)

The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft by Gary Regan

Another invaluable book, not just for its collection of recipes, but for its introduction of Regan’s remarkable system for analyzing and categorizing drinks, helping us not only to understand them better (and remember how to make them), but to guide us in creating drinks of our own.

The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy by Jim Meehan

Probably the most remarkable new book dedicated to cocktails in many years. One of the world’s top bartenders shares his knowledge — along with an extraordinary collection of recipes. Plus, it’s a gorgeous book. (See the complete review.)

Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey by Chuck Cowdery

If you want to learn about bourbon (and rye and Tennessee whiskey), this is the book to read. Chuck Cowdery is the master, and he gives the unvarnished history and no-nonsense truth — a rare things in the bourbon world, which is filled with more tall tales than the halls of Congress.

And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis

American history as seen through the bottom of a glass. Wayne Curtis combines two of my interests — booze and history — in one book. How could I not like it? And I think you will, too. Curtis has an interesting take on history that is both literate and fun to read.

Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas by David Wondrich

Although most people don’t know his name, Jerry Thomas was a remarkable figure in the history of alcohol and drinking in America. Thomas was the world’s first “celebrity” bartender and the author of the first major bartending book. Wondrich takes us through Thomas’s work, along with lively commentary and reliable recreations of the recipes he made famous. A great piece of drinks history.

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie by Ted Haigh

Another book that dives into the depths of some of the classic drinks of the past that have fallen by the wayside. Good recipes and interesting commentary — and since Ted Haigh is a graphic designer in Hollywood, it has beautiful visuals as well.

Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons

A little more esoteric than some of the rest, but a remarkable history. (And another lovely book to look at.) Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of bitters — which began as health tonics — up through their essential addition to cocktails. This book tells you everything you need to know on the subject, including how to make your own.

cocktail books

101 Ingredients Mixology

Bitters 101: A Brief History of Potent Non-Potables

Cocktail bitters are something we hear about a lot in the liquid world, but many people aren’t exactly sure what they are. It’s worth your time to find out more about them, as they can be the crucial difference in whether a drink succeeds or fails.

Bitters are flavorings for cocktails. Much like adding salt and pepper to a soup or stew, bitters aren’t necessarily a flavor that you highlight on their own, but rather one that contributes to the overall taste of the cocktail. You might not even notice they’re there, but you’ll definitely notice if they’re not.

Bitters don’t make a drink taste bitter, even though they might have bitter ingredients (like gentian) in them. Their flavors run the gamut from sweet to spicy to citrusy, herbal, floral and more. They serve to enhance and accentuate the other flavors in the drink, adding some extra zing. It’s like putting salt on french fries — they make the whole thing taste better.

The origin of bitters dates back three centuries, well before the era of the cocktail, when they were used as patent remedies and tonics. Formulated by doctors, pharmacists, and charlatans, bitters were taken for a variety of ills, most notably an upset stomach.

The problem was, bitters didn’t taste very good. It was medicine, after all, and medicine isn’t expected to taste good. So people started mixing their bitters with other things to make them more palatable. Once people start combining liquids, you can bet it won’t be long before alcohol goes into the mix. And so it did, and thus the cocktail was born.

By far the most common type of bitters is Angostura. They are a type of “aromatic bitters” that are so ubiquitous they have become sui generis. Made in Trinidad for almost 200 years, the flavor of Angostura bitters has elements of tamarind, clove, allspice, and cinnamon. They add a warm, spicy touch to your cocktail, and are commonly used in drinks like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Pink Gin, and Champagne Cocktail.

It wasn’t that long ago that the only bottle of bitters you’d ever see on the shelf was Angostura. These days, however, there are enough different types of bitters on the market to fill a swimming pool. It can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

After you’ve bought a bottle of Angostura, you can start branching out beyond that. Probably the next most used type are orange bitters, and a variety of them are available. Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters are the most common, and both are recommended. Orange bitters were traditionally used in Martinis, along with other cocktails like the Bronx and Bijou. They can also add an interesting dimension to a Daiquiri or Margarita.

Peychaud’s, a type of Creole bitters created in New Orleans, are a very handy third addition to your arsenal. There are sweeter than Angostura, with elements of fruit and licorice. They are essential if you’re going to make the official New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, or that other Big Easy favorite, the Vieux Carré. They also make a nice change-up in your Manhattan.

There are scores of other varieties of bitters available, everything ranging from chocolate to cherry, lavender to lemon, and celery to sarsaparilla. Whether or not you will need any of these depends on how deeply you plan to go into your mixological explorations, and what kinds of drinks you want to make. If you do want more, Kegworks is a great place to check.

So don’t be intimidated by bitters. When you see a recipe that calls for them, use them. Once you get comfortable with how the flavors work, you can even try experimenting on your own.

If you’re interested in finding out more about bitters, I highly recommend Brad Thomas Parsons’ book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. It contains everything you’ll ever need to know about the subject, including how to make your own. It’s a gorgeous book and a fascinating read.

Cocktail Bitters

Cocktails Ingredients Mixology

Ten Easy Tips for Making Better Cocktails at Home

If you order a drink in a good bar, chances are it will taste better than what you can make at home. But it doesn't have to be like that. By following some simple strategies, you can greatly improve the quality of your cocktails. You may not reach A+ level, but with just a little work, you'll soon be the bartending star of the block.

1. Buy a couple pieces of decent equipment. At the very least you need a cocktail shaker and a jigger. The two together will only cost you $20 and you'll be set to make most drinks. (You can also buy a low-cost set from a store like I have this particular set and it's hard to beat for the price.)

2. Measure! Once you've got your jigger, you can start measuring all your liquids that go into the drink. This is crucial.

3. Use good ice. I wrote about ice a couple years ago, so I won't go into too much detail. If you can't make good, fresh ice at home (you need a clean, odorless freezer to do so), then buy a bag at the store. Some people are down on bought ice, but I think it's fine for most purposes.

4. Buy good quality booze. The better the booze, the better your drinks will taste. But this doesn't necessarily require you to spend a lot of money. Cruzan Rum, for example, is perfectly fine and costs less than Bacardi. Sobieski makes good quality vodka that is very cheap. You can find Tanqueray Gin on sale for under $20.

5. Know when to splurge. Bite the bullet and spend the extra money to get Cointreau and Grand Marnier (for example). They're more expensive than the other brands, but they're better. The difference between Cointreau and generic triple sec in a drink is night-and-day. The good news is, most cocktails only require an ounce or less of a liqueur. So you'll get at least 25 drinks from that one bottle. It's worth it.

6. Use fresh juices. Everyone says this, and there's a reason for that. I do sometimes use canned/bottled juices (Bad Professor!), but most varieties just don't taste very good. If you use fresh lime and lemon juice, your drinks will taste better. You can get away with buying orange juice and grapefruit juice from the store, but try to get fresh, not-from-concentrate.

7. Avoid any mixers with high fructose corn syrup. In addition to being bad for you, HFCS doesn't mix well in cocktails. You can almost always find substitutes that contain real sugar. They probably won't even cost any more. You just need to read labels.

8. Buy some decent glasses. A few highball, cocktail, rocks, and collins glasses won't set you back very much, but they'll make your drink experience so much nicer. The right glass can also make your drink taste better, by ensuring you don't flood it with too much mixer. You can buy Libbey brand glasses at Amazon or Target and they don't cost very much. Or you can find unique glasses at your local thrift store for very cheap.

9. Don't substitute ingredients until you know what you're doing. If a recipe calls for a particular kind of juice or liqueur or mixer, use it. You need to have a good understanding of the flavors before you can start changing things up. Sometimes substitutions work — but they often end up in a wasted glass of booze.

10. Taste your drinks before you serve them. If you watch videos on YouTube of bartenders in high-end cocktail bars, you'll often notice them tasting their cocktails before pouring them into the glass. (The usual method of doing this is to take a straw, plug one end, and dip it in the drink. This draws out a small amount that you can taste.) This is your last chance to fix anything in your cocktail that might be off. Too sweet? Add more citrus. Too tart? Add more sweetener. Etc.

If you have any tips that you'd like to share, please post them in the comments below, or email them along.

Bar equipment


What to Expect in 2013 According to Professor Cocktail

Everybody likes predictions — especially when the predictor gets things horribly wrong and looks like a dolt. So here are my predictions for the spirituous world in 2013. Bookmark this page so you can come back in a year and see how I did.

An end to whiskey insanity:

The past few years have been crazy ones for the whiskey business. Prices are climbing steadily, yet a shortage of older whiskey remains. More and more rare expressions are hitting the market and there seems to be no ceiling on the demand for them — or the prices they fetch. Bourbons like Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection have become almost impossible to find. Can all of this continue? I doubt it. Consumer trends are nearly always cyclical and there's no reason to think that whiskey will be any different. Eventually things will settle down and return to a more normal state of affairs. It might as well be this year.

Less complicated cocktails:

When the craft cocktail revolution hit full flower, things got a little out of hand. Cocktails with seven ingredients, two of which had to be made from scratch and one that cost $100 an ounce. Did these drinks really taste good enough to justify all the fuss and expense? Probably not. I think we'll see more normalcy coming to our mixology. Skilled bartenders are still going to make great drinks with delicious and unexpected flavors. They're just going to do so without the extra layer of nonsense.

The year for mezcal:

We all know how popular tequila is. But what about mezcal? Tequila's agave cousin from southern Mexico is poised to break through to a larger audience — and this just might be the year it happens. Look for more brands and expressions to hit the shelves. And give one a try.

More wine in cocktails:

We've been seeing this trend picking up steam the last year or two, and I think it's ready to go mainstream. Cocktails with port and sherry especially are going to start popping up everywhere.

Skinny is the new fat:

Although the merits of the "skinny" trend are debatable, it's not going anywhere. Skinny spirits, skinny wine, skinny cocktails — you're going to see plenty of them this year.

Drink local:

It's been years since Alice Waters began her push to encourage people to eat local. In 2013 we're going to see this trend really start to assert itself in the cocktail and spirits world. Fresh, local ingredients in cocktails, accompanied by regionally-made booze, will continue to grow. People want to know where the stuff in their drinks is coming from, and this desire to drink local will help support the growing craft spirits movement.

Carbonated spirits:

Carbonated cocktails have been featured in recent years in several of the high-end cocktail bars — especially when wizards like Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Jamie Boudreau are behind the stick. But now we're going to see booze that comes with the carbonation right in the bottle. Prevu and Nuvo are at the leading edge of this trend.

 What do you foresee on the horizon? Anything you're excited or horrified about?

(Stolen from

Cheat Sheet Links

The Cheat Sheet: The Professor’s Guide to the Best Cocktail and Spirits Links

“Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall.” –Charles Bukowski

Professor Cocktail

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The Cheat Sheet: The Professor’s Guide to the Best Cocktail and Spirits Links

"The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude." –James Joyce

That's it for now. If you have any suggestions for next week's round-up, please let me know.

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The Cheat Sheet: The Professor’s Guide to the Best Cocktail and Spirits Links

“When you stop drinking, you have to deal with this marvelous personality that started you drinking in the first place.” –Jimmy Breslin

  • In the New York Times, Robert Simonson takes a Tiki tour around the greater New York area.
  • More from Robert Simonson, also in the Times: some classic cocktails don't deserve to be rediscovered, as this panel discussion related.
  • Also in the Times, the great Mark Bittman lists twelve summer cocktails that actually taste like booze.
  • Wayne Curtis wanted to have part of an iceberg sent to Manhattan. Turns out it was a lot harder than he anticipated.
  • In the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Rothbaum reports on the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which took place over the past several days.
  • More from Rebecca Rothbaum, also in the Journal: cocktail nerds are visiting a Brooklyn bar for the chance to mix drinks in a cocktail shaker once owned by Charles H. Baker Jr.
  • In Forbes Magazine, Steven Bertoni does a tequila tasting with John Paul DeJoria, the billionaire founder of Patrón Tequila. (There's a short article, but most of it is a video.)
  • For ABC News, Nick Watt discovers the gin revolution and the return of the Martini. (Article plus video.)
  • In the Kansas City Star, Anne Brockoff writes about the growing popularity of shrubs, drinking vinegars that are usually made from various types of fruit.
  • Good news! There are some new videos up on The Small Spirit: Robert Hess shows you how to make a Blood and Sand and an Attention.
  • Inc. Magazine interviews "rising tequila stars" Moy Guindi and Danny Schneeweiss of Milagro.
  • In the Austin American-Statesman, Emma Janzen takes a comprehensive look at what's happening in tequila today.
  • On CLASS Magazine, Simon Difford and Ian Cameron round up 5 hazelnut liqueurs. They give top marks to category leader Frangelico.
  • Also in CLASS Magazine, Camper English visits Washington, D.C. and reports back on four bars to visit. The only one I've been to is the Columbia Room and I highly recommend it.
  • Writing for the Reuters wire, Kara Newman talks about Dawa, Nairobi's "medicinal" cocktail.
  • More from Kara Newman, also on Reuters: a trip to Chile to sample some pisco, the traditional South American brandy.
  • More pisco news: in The Oregonian, Paul Clarke discusses the spirit's status as the perennial "next big thing."
  • On Serious Eats, Will Gordon tries Gosling's pre-made Dark 'n Stormy drink. He gives it the thumbs-up, although wonders how necessary it is. My reaction was pretty much the same.
  • In Details Magazine, Christopher Ross says that he's finally found the first good cocktail app: Bartender's Choice. I'm going to have to give it a try.
  • On the Whiskey Advocate blog, Mike Miyamoto, master distiller for Suntory, explains Hakusku Japanese whisky.
  • The Huffington Post offers up recipes for 10 easy Champagne Cocktails, courtesy of Saveur Magazine.
  • Also in the Huffington Post, Tony Sachs suggests a dozen aged tequilas to sip. I haven't tried most of these, but this looks like a really good list.
  • On Food Republic, Emily Saladino rounds up the 8 best airlines for drinking. "Hands down, the best airline drinking is on Virgin Atlantic."
  • Bacardi has triumphed over Pernod Ricard in their fight to use the Havana Club name in the United States. As a result, Pernod registered a new brand name for the U.S. market, Havanista, in hopes of one day selling Cuban rum here.
  • The AP reports that Maker's Mark has won a court case protecting its exclusive use of the wax seal on its bottles.


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The Cheat Sheet: The Professor’s Guide to the Best Cocktail and Spirits Links

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.” –-Mark Twain

  • In the Washington Post, Jason Wilson writes about Buffalo Trace Distillery's Single Oak Project. As I mentioned before, I find this fascinating.
  • Also in the Washington Post, more from Jason Wilson: the James Hotel (New York and Chicago) has an "in-room mixology experience," where they'll send up a tray full of tools and mixers to go with the booze in the mini-fridge. That way, you can mix real drinks with quality ingredients.
  • Also in the Washington Post, Paul Abercrombie visits France's Cognac country and finds a lot to drink in.
  • In the San Francisco Chronicle, Gary Regan writes about a new drink: a whiskey Cherry Cobbler, made with rye whiskey and ruby port. Sounds tasty!
  • In the Chicago Tribune, Zak Stambor has good things to say about Redbreast Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey.
  • In Arrive Magazine, Kara Newman writes about moonshine. I haven't tried any 'shine yet. I suppose I should. I do, after all, live in Virginia.
  • On, Larry Olmstead has a three-part series on gin. Part 1 covers gin and the classic cocktail renaissance. Part 2 discusses London Gins. Part 3 features the original Martini gin and a distillery tour.
  • Also from Kara Newman, a report for Reuters on the spirits scene in Glasgow — it's not just Scotch.
  • In the National Post (Tortonto), Margaret Swayne visits Guyana, home of Demerara rum. (The El Dorado 12 Year Old is one of my favorites.)
  • In Details Magazine, Christopher Ross writes about the mash-up between Tiki drinks and amaro. Yes, please.
  • In New York Magazine, Matthew Latkiewicz tells you everything you need to know about carbonated cocktails.
  • In the New York Post, Max Gross writes about the Asian influences showing up in New York City cocktails.
  • In the New York Daily News, a pair of cocktail recipes from Audrey Sanders and Jim Meehan: the French Pearl and the Strawberry Rhubarb Daiquiri.
  • CLASS Magazine rounds up 6 top vanilla liqueurs. Their favorite is Navan from Grand Marnier. (I believe this is no longer produced.)
  • Also in CLASS, Ian Cameron writes about Ian Burrell, the Ambassador of Rum.
  • On, Jacques Bezuidenhout shows you how to make a Margarita, Paloma and Spiced Old Fashioned.
  • There's a new entry in Serious Eats guide to various spirits — this time the subject is mezcal.
  • Also on Serious Eats: Maggie Hoffman suggests 5 silver tequilas you should try. (I haven't tried any of these! We did our own tequila taste test a while back.)
  • The Denver Post visits Adrift, a new Tiki bar in the Mile High City, and gives it the thumbs up.
  • Las Vegas Weekly reports on the success of Tito Beveridge and his Tito's Handmade Vodka.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Beam is booming, with first quarter sales up by 13%.
  • The 2012 World Beer Cup was held recently and the winners have been announced.


Cheat Sheet Links

The Cheat Sheet: The Professor’s Guide to the Best Cocktail and Spirits Links

"Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off." –Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler)


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The Cheat Sheet: The Professor’s Guide to the Best Cocktail and Spirits Links

I had so many links this week, I decided to do a special edition.

  • In the Wall Street Journal, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan discusses how to pair cocktails with food.
  • In the Baltimore Sun, Eric Maza reveals that the trend of beer cocktails has made its way to Charm City.
  • In Esquire Magazine, bartender Jay Porter (from San Diego's El Take It Easy) shares his recipe for The Long Goodbye (a Mezcal Gimlet). He created it as a tribute to Raymond Chandler, so I had to link to it.
  • NPR reports on the coolness that is Tiki, focusing on the Mai Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
  • On, Jordan Mackay extols the virtues of drinking vermouth by itself.
  • Also on, the great Dale DeGroff talks tequila cocktails, and includes a couple recipes for unique variations of Sangrita. (Here's my recipe for Sangrita.)
  • In Seattle Magazine, A.J. Rathbun investigate the true meaning of "happy hour."
  • On the AP wire, Michelle Lock reports on a trend I think you'll start seeing more and more of: barrel aging beer.
  • Also on the AP wire, Alison Ladman suggests some skinny cocktails to drink for Cinco de Mayo. The whole skinny trend has passed me by so far. (Obviously.)
  • Food and Wine magazine reports on high-tech cocktails, including ones made with liquid nitrogen, drinks heated sous vide, and (my favorite) cocktails shaken with an old paint-can shaker!
  • The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland) reports on a popular Ocean City cocktail called the Nor'easter. This drink is so insane, I think I have to make one just to see what it tastes like.
  • In Seattle Weekly, Sonja Groset tells you how to make a better gin and tonic. (The piece is mainly a discussion of the different types of gin, but that's always welcome.)
  • More gin news: the North Jersey Record proclaims it gin and tonic weather — and suggests 4 new gins you might not be familiar with.
  • In LA Weekly, Jenn Garbee shares the new design for the Tuaca bottle and pronounces it "fantastic."
  • In the Gloucester Times, Victoria Brown discusses the history of the Sidecar, a classic cocktail made with cognac, triple sec and lime juice.
  • It's almost Kentucky Derby time — do you know how to make a Mint Julep? Serious Eats tells you how.
  • Also on Serious Eats: 5 fruity Margarita recipes. The pineapple sounds pretty good. (Here's my recipe for a Frozen Watermelon Margarita.)
  • Portland bartenders (including Jacob Grier of Metrovino) are mixing up some exciting floral cocktails for spring. Why does Portland have so many good bartenders?
  • More spring cocktail trends, these reported by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. They are: bottled cocktails, a Pimm's Cup revival, and wine cocktails.
  • Spirits conglomerate Beam is buying Pinnacle vodka and Calico Jack rum. Whipped cream vodka for everyone!
  • The Weekly Pint investigates the new trend of brewers blending wine into beer. Ummm…huh?