The best books on America’s cocktail culture

Cecelia Tichi Author Of Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age
By Cecelia Tichi

Who am I?

Nightclubs and country clubs figured in my father’s business distributing snack foods in post-WWII “Steel City,” Pittsburgh, where I was served “Shirley Temple” cocktails in martini glasses alongside my parents’ Manhattans. (To my five- and six-year-old eye, the trophy was the maraschino cherry.) Decades later, teaching American literature in the university, my interest deepened in Jack London’s writing, and my book on him demanded close attention to the history of US cocktails and other drinks. London’s memoir, John Barleycorn, frankly details his drinking and eventual capture by alcohol. As a scholar-researcher, I was “captured” by the backstory of US cocktail culture.

I wrote...

Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age

By Cecelia Tichi,

Book cover of Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age

What is my book about?

America’s Golden Age of Cocktails jibed with the dawn of the telephone, electric lights, and the airplane. In the post-Civil War decades, bartenders’ innovations gave rise to the Manhattan, the Martini, and myriad other drinks popular to this day. Suddenly, ice was no longer a cheating bartender’s dilution, but an asset to chill whiskey, rum, or gin beverages compounded with flavorings, juices, and fruit garnishes that pleased both eye and palate. The new mixed drinks flourished at barrooms, sporting events, luncheons, balls, reunions, and on railroad cars, yachts, and ocean liners.

Cocktails honored America’s cities, celebrities, tycoons, scamps, and scoundrels. Colleges had signature drinks, and actresses were toasted with cocktails compounded in tribute to their starring roles on stage. The Temperance Movement warned against these demonic drinks, but cocktails stirred or shaken won the day.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar

Why did I love this book?

IMBIBE! earns its all-caps title and exclamation point because it is the undisputed “bible” of cocktail books. As a longtime historical researcher, I marveled at Wondrich’s deep dive into the backstory of innumerable drinks, bars, and bartenders, together with their histories, eccentricities, and achievements. Along the way, I found Wondrich to be a master librarian of the bar books compiled and published from the late 1700s colonial days to recent times. IMBIBE! includes author-tested recipes, situates the drinks in their historical moments, and profiles marquee mixologists, especially the Founding Father of cocktail culture, “Professor” Jerry Thomas (b.1830), whose How to Mix Drinks launched the Golden Age of Cocktails. Wondrich’s graceful prose glides with pleasing flair, rather like a fine cocktail. 

By David Wondrich,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Imbibe! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The newly updated edition of David Wondrich’s definitive guide to classic American cocktails.

Cocktail writer and historian David Wondrich presents the colorful, little-known history of classic American drinks--and the ultimate mixologist's guide--in this engaging homage to Jerry Thomas, father of the American bar.

Wondrich reveals never-before-published details and stories about this larger-than-life nineteenth-century figure, along with definitive recipes for more than 100 punches, cocktails, sours, fizzes, toddies, slings, and other essential drinks, along with detailed historical and mixological notes.
The first edition, published in 2007, won a James Beard Award. Now updated with newly discovered recipes and historical information, this…

Book cover of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails

Why did I love this book?

Curtis reaches to bestselling author Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) for the song identified with sailors and pirates:

Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Whiskey and gin are sidelined as rum takes first prize in this chronicle of Caribbean and South Seas pirates and privateers, sugar barons, and rum drinks from grog to the daiquiri and Cuba Libre (my Key West favorite).

This ten-cocktail capsule of New World history reshuffles history classroom categories to join recent accounts of turbulent times seen through commodities (Bananas, Cod, Salt), but a Bottle of Rum is the most fun, by far!

By Wayne Curtis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And a Bottle of Rum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now revised, updated, and with new recipes, And a Bottle of Rum tells the raucously entertaining story of this most American of liquors

From the grog sailors drank on the high seas in the 1700s to the mojitos of Havana bar hoppers, spirits and cocktail columnist Wayne Curtis offers a history of rum and the Americas alike, revealing that the homely spirit once distilled from the industrial waste of the booming sugar trade has managed to infiltrate every stratum of New World society. 

Curtis takes us from the taverns of the American colonies, where rum delivered both a cheap wallop…

Book cover of Straight Up or on the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail

Why did I love this book?

Order a Martini (straight up, or with ice chiming against the glass), then settle with this charming book and the “quintessential cocktail” that merits its own chapter in the imbiber’s US history tour. Grimes wears learning lightly while pointing out the cultural vagaries over four centuries of pleasurable distillation, brewing, and fermentation. Who knew the American Revolution was first fomented in 1700s village taverns? Or that the familiar Gilded Age “Bronx” (named by the Waldorf-Astoria’s master mixologist) was the very first cocktail to use fruit juice?

Author Grimes chides the 1960s Yuppies (a.k.a. young urban professionals) for purist insistence on “imported beer” and “the rarest of single-malt Scotches,” but concludes the country and the cocktail survived and are all the better for it. He gets no argument from me!

By William Grimes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Straight Up or on the Rocks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The cocktail is as old as the nation that invented it, yet until this entertaining and authoritative account, its story had never been fully told. William Grimes traces the evolution of American drink from the anything-goes concoctions of the Colonial era to the frozen margarita, spiking his meticulously researched narrative with arresting details, odd facts, and colorful figures.

The book includes about one hundred recipes--half of them new for this edition--for both classics and innovations.

Book cover of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas

Why did I love this book?

Whiskeys rule, but the modern bar dare not lack a battery of bitters that extend beyond from the familiar Angostura and Peychaud’s. By the “dash,” cocktails demand bitters which, all too often, appear to be an afterthought. (Yet my New Orleans-born Sazerac cocktail would taste “off” without Peychaud’s and my favorite Old Fashioned unthinkable without two dashes of time-honored Angostura.)

Bitters inducts us into the realm of these botanical “drugs” distilled from flowers, spices, citrus peels, tree bark—all originally dispensed in apothecary shops as cures for digestive woes, stomach troubles, even gout. By the Gilded Age, bitters transited to the bar under brands sounding sketchy (e.g. Flint’s Quaker Bitters), but Bitters opens a new botanical wonderland for my armchair imagining, and for others’ venturesome do-it-yourself distillation. Key Lime Bitters, anyone?

By Brad Thomas Parsons, Ed Anderson (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bitters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar. A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring in bartenders and their thirsty patrons a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. And few ingredients have as rich a history or serve as fundamental a role in our beverage heritage as bitters.
Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world’s most storied elixir, from its earliest “snake oil” days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a…

Book cover of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book

Why did I love this book?

Double duty as a bar book and memoir makes Crockett’s chronicle my must for skillfully conjuring two historical moments: the Golden Age of Cocktails (a.k.a. the Gilded Age) and the dark era of Prohibition. Anxious that memories of delectable cocktails and their recipes had been buried in the crypt of Prohibition’s thirteen years (1920-1933), journalist Crockett hastened to record and revive the drinks. His history is spot-on, and his fury at the nation’s failed “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition fuels this survivor’s fine wordsmithing.

By A.S. Crockett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Crockett was a prominent journalist, writer and publicist. He contributed many observations on New York City nightlife during Prohibition, especially regarding the social life of the Waldorf-Astoria. This collection provides 500 cocktail recipes served at the Waldorf and is one of the first post-Prohibition books of its kind.

The author also provides glimpses of the history of the renowned bar, where he served as the historian of the Old Waldorf Astoria.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cocktails, the Caribbean, and the Bronx?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cocktails, the Caribbean, and the Bronx.

Cocktails Explore 42 books about cocktails
The Caribbean Explore 187 books about the Caribbean
The Bronx Explore 24 books about the Bronx