Looking to up the ante on your cocktail knowledge without looking in the same trendy texts that everyone else is? Or maybe, you’ve already read all of the contemporary cocktail books, and you’d like to delve a little further back in time for inspiration. Scholarly cocktail nerds have long since been hunting down antique cocktail books for insights on drinks of yesteryear — when the Internet was in its infancy, they corroborated in online chatrooms and forums, searching out obscure titles on eBay. And before that, the truly dedicated actually traveled to libraries and used bookstores, hoping to find a treasure trove of old school cocktail recipes. Now it’s easier than ever to find recipes and information for drinks of old — the books have made their way off of dusty shelves and onto the world wide web. Below, we’ve gathered a few of the best online resources for vintage cocktail books.
For decades, Mr. Boston was the foremost authority on bartending. In 1935, “Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide” was published, followed by 65 updated editions over the span of 80 years. Sazerac Co. now owns Mr. Boston, which includes rights to the books, as well as their cordial and spirit line. This summer, they launched an online version of the Mr. Boston, which aggregates recipes from all but 17 of the printed book editions, so you can see everything from how a French 75 was made in 2012 to an Adonis cocktail in 1978 to an Absinthe Frappe in 1935.
Spanning between 1827 and 1963, many a great cocktail text was published. This article by Difford’s Guide provides a timeline of books worth seeking out — many of which link to full-text PDFs that are free and available online (like this charmingly titled tome, “Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks”). If you’re really ambitious, you could use this literary timeline as a checklist of sorts, with more than 100 years’ worth of great cocktail reads.
This interactive archive of cocktail books represents an international array — with titles from everywhere from Mexico to Italy to Japan and Australia. Scroll through book covers, and upon choosing a title that interests you, click through to the books online, presented like an actual physical copy with pages you can turn (complete with the noise of rustling paper). While some texts, like Embury’s classic “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” are password-protected, many are immediately available (such as this enlightening guide to the Daiquiri or the aptly titled “Here Is Something That Will Interest You”). With dozens of titles available dating as far back as the early 1700s, this database is as expansive as it is entertaining.
If this year’s Presidential election has caused you to lose faith in America, let the Library of Congress’s database of digitized cocktail books help restore it. The Library contains volumes written more than 100 years ago, like “Modern American Drinks” (1895) and “Mixology: the Art of Preparing all Kinds of Drinks” (1898), all of which are now free and online in a ViewShare project called Mixology Books.
With resources segmented by time frame from 1705 to present day, Bibulous presents a broad spanning swath of resources from all over the world. Many of the titles are available online, with citations as to where the hard copies are located. Written like an annotated bibliography, you can find all the information you need to determine which books feature what you’re after, all organized by era in cocktail history (so you can brush up on your essential Rat Pack bar books or go deep into the Gothic age of drinking).