There’s been a recent rush on cocktail book releases, with some of the best-known drink writers and bartenders bringing their mixing expertise to the page. No doubt, they’ve been spurred on by the rise of the home bartender, with many people upping their drink-making game during lockdown and as a result, acquiring a thirst for further knowledge. Some of these books – from a cocktail guide by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig to a bartender’s exploration of cocktail culture all around the world – are even a result of being forced to stay at home and away from bars, with the authors having to find a new way to channel their passion for a good mixed drink. Whatever the reasons, cocktail lovers are spoilt for choice in terms of what to add to their gift list this Christmas. From cocktail recipe books focusing on the classics and designed with beginners in mind to more advanced offerings featuring original drinks, we’ve leafed through these latest releases to deliver our verdict on the best cocktail books for Christmas gifting – or for aiding you in your hosting responsibilities as the festivities unfold.
11 of the best cocktail books for Christmas
60-Second Cocktails by Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley
Mitchell Beazley, £12.99
‘Making delicious mixed drinks at home doesn’t have to be a daunting task.’ So say Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley as they set out the raison d’être for 60-Second Cocktails. It’s the fourth book the drink writing duo have released, but the first solely dedicated to making cocktails.
Squarely directed at those who have, perhaps up to this point, been more joyous consumers than confident makers of cocktails, Harrison and Ridley’s straightforward prose and the book’s clear graphics lead you to feel that not only is it possible to make drinks at home, but that they could actually be quite good.
Split into three sections, the drinks in part one – ‘No Shake, Sherlock’ – require minimal ingredients or equipment, and even then, the pair recommend kitchen-ready alternatives for those without the necessary jiggers, shakers and strainers. Though the recipes in the final third might feature more elaborate ingredients than the average cupboard staples – absinthe or ginger liqueur, for example – even then, they’re far from intimidating or fiddly.
Of course, the title is slightly misleading. For all their ease, the cocktails in this book only take a minute to make if you don’t include squeezing the fresh juices, preparing sugar syrup, and gathering equipment – and if you’re relatively practised. Nevertheless, what these recipes do offer is the chance to learn and gain confidence, perhaps to show off, and to engage in some of the theatre of cocktail making at home – even if it requires an egg cup, a sports bottle or a sieve to do so.
Johanna Derry Hall
Modern Classic Cocktails: 60+ Stories and Recipes from the New Golden Age of Drinks by Robert Simonson
Ten Speed Press, £10.99
Can’t bear to hear another retelling of the Negroni’s origins? Fed up with the woolly timeline that comes with the Martini’s creation? Long-time New York Times correspondent Robert Simonson won’t be rehashing stories like those. Instead, he’s plucked out over 60 cocktails he deems to define the modern age of drinking, serving a recipe for each along with the background on how it came to be.
Spanning from the mid-80s to the early 2010s, Simonson sets out his thesis for a ‘modern classic’ – a drink that has transcended the bar in which it was first created, finding itself on menus around the world. In championing each drink, he carefully traces its inception and credits its creators. Indeed, they’re often given a voice in insightful interviews throughout – the idea that, in future, we can avoid those blurry retellings of how the cocktail came to be (although, as Simonson asserts, a bartender’s hazy reflections from the 90s aren’t always the most reliable record…).
Beyond the book’s altruistic aim, Modern Classic Cocktails offers an exciting collection of drinks to pore over – mixing a Revolver or a Oaxacan Old Fashioned is bound to impress dinner party guests and to break up the tedium should you have already nailed the classics.
It’s fair to say there’s a US-skew to Simonson’s selection. That’s how we end up with slightly more obscure options alongside The Espresso Martini and the Cosmopolitan – but it’s what makes the book all the more insightful. Simonson intrinsically understands his own stomping ground and is at ease championing the creativity he’s been able to witness first-hand from a seat at the bar and for the duration of the modern cocktail revival.
The Cocktail Edit by Alice Lascelles
Hardie Grant, £16.99
When the first line of a cocktail book tells you to go put your glassware in the freezer, you know you’re in good hands, and in for a good time. Written by Alice Lascelles – the acclaimed British drinks writer with a column in the Financial Times and features in Club Oenologique – The Cocktail Edit is a book for the beginners, and for the dedicated cocktail makers it’s all about ‘touching base with the basics’ and reminding you how to get creative again.
The first half might be a guide to the technicalities, but it’s far from dry. Instead, it’s all about understanding what you like to drink. ‘A note on making adjustments’ tells you how to tailor drinks to your own palate and personal tastes. Plus, a section on sugar syrups is a wonderful way to get your cocktail creativity revving. Recipes are then presented with a classic cocktail followed by riffs on it, or drinks akin to it.
With a few short sentences, Lascelles manages to get to the heart of a cocktail’s flavour. I’d never made a Rob Roy before (a Manhattan with Scotch instead of American whiskey), but the recommendation of a slightly peaty whisky made complete sense – and delivered delicious results.
What makes this book feel easy and accessible is the organisation and the layout. With minimal effort you can see what you would like to make, what you need to make it, and how to make it look great – the photography is especially beautiful, with a particularly striking selection of glassware (some items from the writer’s own collection). Of course, The Cocktail Edit will look great on the coffee table, but it should also give anyone confidence to become the best home bartender in town this Christmas.
Anna Sulan Masing
Raising the Bar: A Bottle by Bottle Guide to Mixing Masterful Cocktails at Home by Brett Adams and Jacob Grier
Chronicle Books, £16.55
A book written by bartenders? ‘Uh oh…’ you might think. ‘…but, I don’t own a Rotovap…’ Well fear not, because bartender-writers Brett Adams and Jacob Grier have moved away from the frustrating trope of bartender books which, in a nutshell, expect the reader to have a professional-level, fully stocked bar. In fact, this book actively does the opposite.
Instead, Adams and Grier have taken the thoughtful approach of equipping the home bartender with a simple stock cupboard, working through spirits one at a time and with recipes that are variations on a theme. Take, for example, the Bourbon section in ‘The Classic Bar’ chapter. To make all of its nine cocktails, the reader needs nothing more than bourbon, rich demerara syrup, bitters, egg whites, an assortment of citrus fruits, honey syrup, ginger beer and mint.
The pair also do a brilliant job of breaking down the spirits by their history, production processes and how to store them – as well as sharing their preferred brands. Graphics help readers understand the core structure of different cocktails, the importance of balancing sweetness and acidity and even the role of dilution.
It’s a pretty exhaustive tome – and something that would suit someone looking to take a more educational and practical approach to home cocktail making. But it is also a clever way of helping readers slowly, chapter by chapter, grow their home bar. Personally, I think this is a modern classic in the making. Bravo, boys.
The Little Book of Aperitifs by Kate Hawkings
Hardie Grant, £9.20
In the introduction to The Little Book of Aperitifs, we learn that it is writer Kate Hawkings’ Great Aunt Margaret – sporting an ill-fitting, jaunty wig – who we have to thank for her predilection for the pre-dinner drink. But this book is far from retro: a curated selection of 50 recipes paying homage to a cocktail category that’s seen a surge in popularity in recent years.
Split into five main sections – gin, wine and fortified wine, sparkling wine, vermouth, and other spirits – this book is a simple, welcoming and easy-to-follow mix of classic recipes peppered with practical tips and nuggets of cocktail history, too. Classic aperitifs like the Martini (which is presented in its stripped-back form alongside a list of variations) and the French 75 are joined by more left-field additions – from the Black Velvet, to the Seelbach and Vin d’Orange.
While accessible, more guidance on preferred brands or styles of spirits would have been helpful to guide beginners who might not know where to start when looking for an unflavoured eau de vie, or those unsure of what style of gin to select. Plus, some of the cocktail inclusions don’t scream ‘aperitif’ to me (as much as I love a Piña Colada). But where Hawkings really shines is in her selection of easy-to-make long drinks, from an Americano Shandy to a Fino and Fizz, which I was able to knock up in a matter of moments. Its recipes may not be revolutionary, but they are the perfect place for cocktail novices to start building their repertoire. Oh, and its array of photographs are wonderfully vibrant too – Great Aunt Margaret would surely approve.
Pour Me Another: 250 Ways to Find your Favourite Drink by J.M. Hirsch
A novel take on the mixologists’ manual that encourages you to ‘choose your own cocktail adventure’. James Beard award-winner J.M. Hirsch begins with five omnipresent drinks – including the Margarita and the G&T – and for each one, offers fifty places you might go next.
The whole thing follows a principle Hirsh calls ‘delicious minimalism’, which sees him confidently rejigging classic recipes for poise and balance. None of these call for any overly exotic ingredients and many can be whipped up from a well-stocked home bar.
Some of the specs are a bit rogue, meaning this doesn’t quite work as a straight reference book. Hirsch’s Singapore Sling contains rye whiskey and no cherry brandy – a variation that would probably get you thrown out of Raffles if you tried to order one. However, his takes are well-thought out, easy to follow and the hit-rate is high.
The real masterstroke here, though, is that each drink comes with a call to ‘pour me another’, offering a selection of places to go next. You like Manhattans? Break out the gin and try a Martinez. Flipping between pages in pursuit of new combinations realises that choose-your-own-adventure element in a way that’s genuinely exciting.
By encouraging readers to explore the modular nature of cocktails, Hirsch imagines the drinks cabinet as one big Lego set. The combinations are endless and it pays to be creative. That approach makes Pour Me Another ideal reading for the experimental home bartender.
Cocktail Time! The Ultimate Guide to Grown-Up Fun by Paul Feig
Harper Collins, £19.36
Film director and bon vivant Paul Feig could have name-dropped any number of Hollywood stars in his dedication for Cocktail Time, but instead, he makes this book out to Dukes Bar’s Alessandro Pallazi. And in Martini terms, that’s about as A-List as it gets. (Plus, there are plenty of familiar faces in a chapter outrageously titled: ‘Recipes from my wonderful celebrity friends!’)
This book is not designed as a history of drinks or a masterclass in mixology, but instead offers a window into the cocktail lifestyle. It’s aspirational, and yet it’s the outcome of a lockdown spent making drinks at home like the rest of us.
The first part of Cocktail Time focuses on nailing your at-home party aesthetic. To illustrate, the book is littered with photographs of Feig in a series of comedic poses, dressed to the nines with a glass in hand. Tips range from the practised and practical to the hysterical (‘The bottle opener… well, it opens bottles’). One hundred recipes follow – some classics, some ‘Paul Feig Originals’ – each one paired with a party song (i.e. El Presidente and ‘You Should be Dancing’ by the BeeGees) and the sort of story you could only hope for from a friendly stranger at the bar.
While advice and recipes are on solid ground, you should think of them as a vehicle for Feig’s lively anecdotes. He has a real way with words (if a little too liberal with an exclamation mark), and his love of a good drink and a good time leaps from the page. It’s fair to say this is the most flamboyant cocktail book release of the season. In fact, it’s a camp as Christmas – all the more reason to add it to the gift list.
A Bartender’s Guide to the World: Cocktails and Stories from 75 Places by Lauren Mote and James O. Fraioli
Appetite by Random House, £19.31
When you’ve travelled to over 50 countries, you learn a thing or two about flavour. You also collect some rather colourful stories (and equally colourful friends along the way). That is the tale of Lauren Mote, an award-winning and globe-trotting bartender who has poured the last 20 years of travel into her first book.
Its 248 pages are an unapologetic love story to the people and places that Canadian-born Netherlands-dwelling Mote has encountered during her career behind (and in front of) the bar. From ascending a live volcano in Nicaragua, to embracing bees in the Okanagan Valley’s Tantalus Vineyards, the stories behind Mote’s recipes bring her drinks to life and help to paint a vibrant picture of the cocktail industry she calls home.
Chapters are broken down by spirt category while Mote also divulges her top 12 ‘specialty ingredients’ – from raw honey to tiger nuts – and each cocktail is given a ‘proof’ level (Mote is a staunch champion of no-and-low-abv cocktails). A word of warning, though: a lot of these recipes require some work. No bad thing, but it will help to have a well-stocked bar and to be prepared to make quite a few of the ingredients from scratch (each chapter has a ‘mise en place’ section with recipes for homemade ingredients like marigold wine, bagel shrub and banana tepache).
Ultimately, this book feels like an opportunity for experienced home bartenders (and professional ones) to play with new flavours and hone techniques. It’s a reminder of just how much work, skill and passion go into making top-level cocktails.
Free Spirit Cocktails: 40 Nonalcoholic Drink Recipes by Camille Wilson
Chronicle Books, £14.99
It is exceedingly encouraging to see more non-alcoholic cocktail books gracing the shelves, and this one from cocktail blogger Camille Wilson gives the category the respect it deserves.
Cocktail aficionados might find this book to be no more than a collection of juice recipes with ingredients that elevate them into more cocktail-y realms (sugar syrups, egg white, Angostura bitters), but there are some more complex mixes that will give habitual non-drinkers inspiration when it comes to upping their drink-making game.
The slightly vegetal Art Basil is rooted in green tea, while egg white gives it texture, basil syrup is brightening and lemon and pineapple juice add some acidity; while the Grapefruit Rosemary Spritzer is a delicious combination of pink grapefruit juice and herb-infused syrup. Indeed, it is Wilson’s utilisation of syrups that bring most of her cocktails together, and a five-page rundown of 10 syrup recipes is a helpful resource – not just for using in non-alcoholic cocktails.
I was disappointed not to see the use of more teas, vinegars and other lengthening alternatives, or more interesting ingredients that can be so important in balancing un-boozy cocktails. The use of the word ‘mocktail’ throughout feels strangely dated too. But Wilson’s references to her Jamaican heritage and inclusion of drinks the Caribbean is famous for (punches, sorrels and swizzles) is a warming touch. As are her suggestions on upscaling drinks for gatherings – which could help generate some family-friendly festive cheer.
The Cocktail Cabinet: The Art, Science and Pleasure of Mixing the Perfect Drink by Zoe Burgess
Mitchell Beazley, £18.90
For Zoe Burgess, flavour is all about ‘satisfying the soul’ – but in The Cocktail Cabinet, her debut book, you can tell the founder of drinks consultancy Atelier Pip gets a kick out of the science behind it too.
Like many a good cocktail book, The Cocktail Cabinet is split into two parts, the first outlining the processes and apparatus you’ll need to attain at-home drink perfection. Usually, this aspect can be a bit repetitive from book to book, but thanks to clear, concise, and precise instructions early on, I found my approach to the recipes that followed led to fine-tuned results in the glass. I might not have considered dilution in quite so much depth before, or analysed my stirring in such forensic detail, but without question, my Dirty Martini is all the better for it.
As for part two – those recipes – Burgess breaks down cocktails into what she describes as ‘building blocks’, and this comes with a visual representation, too: a colour-coded illustration to demonstrate all the elements in the glass. Recipes span bitter cocktails, stirred drinks, sours, Champagne cocktails, highballs and those aforementioned stirred cocktails, and include a genius selection of pre-batch recipes to ease at-home entertaining. All are easily navigated by occasion courtesy of an index at the end, and of course, beautiful photography is littered throughout to bring each drink to life – although, those soul-satisfying flavours should speak for themselves.
Rise of the Bartender by Adam Jamie Hussein
Clink Street Publishing, £29.99
One of my toxic traits is flipping to the back of a book to find out what happens in the end. While that isn’t usually a problem I have with cocktail books, I found myself scouring the back pages of bartender Adam Jamie Hussein’s new book. Why? Because it is an impressive and thorough list of the endless resources used to debunk the myths and rumours that surround some of our most beloved cocktails.
Over 384 pages, this book is an amalgamation of notepads that Hussein has filled over numerous years, researching cocktails, facts and matters of debate and compiling them into an unfussy and utilitarian tome which, while far from glossy, is still a lovingly-put-together collection of over 200 cocktails.
Organised chronologically (from 1600 to present day), recipes are paired with the accompanying research (some lighter than others) and Hussein’s hand is felt in some of his own adaptations of recipes as well as the ‘notes’ field, where he gives his own experience-driven insights.
Knowing Hussein’s reputation as a bartender (currently behind the stick at London’s Nomad hotel), I wasn’t surprised that the recipes were well-balanced and easy to follow – helped by the fact that a lot are recognisable classics. I’d suggest making your way through them chronologically and reading his research as you sip along. It might not be the slickest cocktail book on your shelf, but it could be the most reliable.