What Are The Best Vintage Cocktail Books

Cocktail Kingdom releases four new reprints of classic cocktail books

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"Books are the backbone of everything we do," publisher and Cocktail Kingdom proprietor Greg Boehm says. And despite selling some of the best bar tools and glasses in the world, he's getting back to those building blocks.

Boehm met bartending legend Salvatore Calabrese, also known as "The Maestro," on a visit to London in the early 90s with his father, who published the work of Calabrese while at the helm of Sterling Publishing. The encounter sparked Boehm's interest in the bartending craft, and as publishing scions do, he began collecting old bar books and ephemera to memorialize his affection.

A decade later, as the legend of Calabrese and his American counterpart Dale DeGroff began to spread, there were still very few resources for most bartenders to learn about their craft. Writers such as Gary Regan, David Wondrich and Ted Haigh released recipe books researched from old bar guides to fill the void, but their work drove the value of the original texts into the stratosphere, making them impossible for most bartenders to afford—let alone find.

Charles H. Baker's South American Gentleman's Companion ($30)

The follow-up to his first two-volume set, The Gentleman's Companion, Baker's South American Gentleman's Companion chronicles his experience travelling the world with his wealthy wife and eccentric, rich colleagues. Cocktail Kingdom's edition omits the volume on cuisine but includes the handsome slipcase.

Jerry Thomas's The Bartender's Guide ($30)

After selling through the first printing of the first professional bartender's guide ever printed, David Wondrich, who wrote the biography of Jerry Thomas (Imbibe), added new material to the book's appendix, and Boehm bound it with the first cover. The former posted a $2 price tag, and the new one includes the original $1.50 pricing.

Charles Mahoney's Hoffman House Bartender's Guide ($25)

More than any other bar guide, the detailed information about operations and management are what distinguishes this book from other recipe-focused collections. The Hoffman House was famed for its lavishness, and, thankfully, the book includes more photographs documenting it than any other book of this time.

Tom Bullock's The Ideal Bartender ($25) 

Bullock was so highly regarded for the quality of his drinks, which he prepared for multiple presidents in luxurious clubs and hotels, that he was afforded the opportunity to pen a cocktail book. Aside from being one of the last published before Prohibition, it's significant to note that as an African American working in the South, he would have faced numerous barriers to achieving the level of fame he garnered.

With a void to fill, Boehm put his growing collection to work. By the early 2000s, he owned hundreds of rare bar books and was the proprietor of a publishing company called Mud Puddle, which specialized in book packaging that makes old bar guides look like a welcome distraction. In 2008, he released a handful of canonical texts including Harry MacElhone's Barflies and Cocktails, C.F. Lawlor's The Mixicologist, Harry Johnson's Bartenders' Manual and David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

In response to all the customers who asked him about bar tools (which were also scarce), he formed Cocktail Kingdom and began importing them from all over the world. In 2010, Boehm translated Japanese barman Kazuo Uyeda's book, Cocktail Technique, into English and flew the author to New York to hold a seminar on his famed shaking style. Bar tool sales, especially those favored by Japanese barmen like Uyeda, quickly eclipsed books as YouTube became the trade's go-to for information.

Nowadays, Cocktail Kingdom manufactures its own line of bar and glassware, which take cues from vintage pieces and the very best of the international lines it used to import. Despite books being only around 10 percent of the company's revenue, Greg has decided to go back the business's roots.

So in the last few months, he's reprinted four books any cocktail enthusiast can appreciate. Aside from the intrinsic beauty of the books from a production standpoint, each one provides a detailed snapshot of bygone eras behind the bar: Charles H. Baker's South American Gentleman's Companion with an introduction by Fort Defiance's St. John Frizell, an updated edition of Jerry Thomas's first Bartender's Guide with an introduction by cocktail historian David Wondrich, Charles Mahoney's Hoffman House Bartender's Guide with an introduction by yours truly, and Tom Bullock's The Ideal Bartender with an introduction by international rum ambassador Ian Burrell. More about each book here.

Despite playing a supporting role to bar and glassware these days, I'd argue the enduring quality of these talismans makes them the most valuable tools Cocktail Kingdom peddles.