Bitters are a key component in good cocktails, and this books has bitters and cocktail history, some bitters making guidance, and quite a few good drink recipes with a bit of context or a story to accompany them. It is a well rounded and readable book, and it’s laid out so that you can easily skip over bitters history or other sections if you just want to dive into recipes. But don’t skip over much, this is a good primer on cocktails as well as bitters.
On a recent trip to The Boston Shaker I picked up a couple of very different books, one pretty small, and one quite large. I like them both and can recommend them both, for different reasons.
“Home Bar Basics” is the little one, and it is just what it claims to be.
This great little book is compact, spiral bound so it lays flat when you put it down to mix your drinks, and the entire book is resistant to damage from spills. Home Bar Basics has bar layout, equipment, and glassware info, but isn’t pedantic about it. The book contains twenty-five drink recipes, covering the standards and a bit more. If you want a good basic home bartending book that fits in a pocket, this is it.
The big one is “901 Very Good Cocktails”, it is great for great for lists, 68 of them in fact- followed by, you guessed it, 901 recipes.
Not much extraneous information here, this is a monster drink recipe book, with drinks indexed by a variety of factors, including ingredients, flavors, styles, seasons, geography, and even color. 901 Very Good Cocktails also has basic bar info, simple rules, and other advice.
I do need to mention a couple of great books I do not recommend for most beginners. David Wondrich is a cocktail guru, some would say he is THE cocktail guru. Wondrich has written several books, his “Imbibe” and “Punch” are fantastic… if you are interested in the history of alcoholic beverages, often in deep detail.
If you are making your living serving craft cocktails, or are just somewhat obsessed as I am, these books belong on your shelf. If you just want some recipes, you may be frustrated with the detail and narration surrounding the recipes. These are good books, just not for most beginning or casual bartenders. Of the two, Imbibe is the more versatile, Punch is more of a specialty. If interested, 12 Bottle Bar has good, if slightly gushing, reviews of both books.
And then there are the books from specialty bars, often high-end craft cocktail bars. These vary as much as the bars themselves, and can be intimidating when you see how much effort goes into some of the drinks. Reading through Liquid Vacation, the house drink book from Frankie’s Tiki Room, you’ll be amazed at the effort and craftsmanship that goes into their drinks- especially at a mere $9 a drink.
It is a fun book, but don’t be surprised if you decide to pass on making some of the more challenging drinks found in Liquid Vacation.
“The PDT Cocktail Book” is one I recommend for higher-end recipes. You may want to just jump to page 40 where the recipes begin unless you want the details of setting up and equipping a world-class specialty bar. As your skills and/or curiosity grow you’ll probably want go back and check out those first 39 pages. I suggest sticking to the recipes as described, at least as a starting point, including the specific liquors and additives. PDT has the reputation they do for a reason, trust them the aim you in the right direction.