ISO: Best Bartending Recipe Book
I own dozens of cocktail books. As a writer who specializes in cocktails and spirits, a consulting mixologist & chef, partner in a winery/brewery, and opening an artisanal distillery, I have to say that no doubt about it, the NEW, just released a few eeks ago, 2009 67th edition of the Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide, edited by Jim Meehan, is excellent.
Jim is also the Food & Wine magazine drinks editor, and one of the best mixologists in the country, if not world. He went through the old Mr. Boston from top to bottom. Then got in touch with just about every top mixologist / bartender in the world and asked for their input. He lists over 90 of the Who's Who of Mixologists as contributors for the new book. Then he tested every new recipe, and fine-tuned them. There are more than 1,500 recipes, plus in-depth info on tools, techniques, etc. The book is broken down into sections starting with Classics, then recipes by type of spirit, hot drinks, eggnogs and punches, even a non-alcoholic section. all for $14.95, and $10.17 on Amazon.com.
I would agree that Mr. Boston is a must have but also think anyone serious about making more than one or two specific cocktails should have multiple books. If you just want to make a good Negroni, use the interwebs and leave it at that. But if you want to have sufficient breadth to make various cocktails at home or learn about things you might want to order when out. Get a few different books.
In my experience, cocktails can become complicated for two main reasons: regionality and propriety. A cocktail of the same name can have some fiercely defended regional differentiations that make you think you are drinking a completely different concoction. And then there are proprietary drinks of certain bars or chains that "seem" like any good bartender would know and are actually just the house specialty of that one particular place or chain.
And recipes for cocktails are as dynamic as recipes for food--each person crafts them in just a slightly different way. So there are editorial decisions made in each cocktail books about which exact recipe to choose for any particular drink. After all, just printing the same list of recipes as some one else doesn't make for particularly good sales.
In addition to Mr. Boston (which by its Campari stains suggests it is time to upgrade to the new one) I find myself going to these two books constantly.
1. The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks by Anthony Dias Blue. With Mr. Boston, this is my encyclopedia.
2. Straight Up or On the Rocks by William Grimes. Now there is a caviet here...this is not fundamentally a recipe book. Rather, it is a review and commentary of drinking in America with recipes included. However, his exhaustive research into the history of the American cocktail leades to set of recipes I find myself (like everyone else right now) playing with--the true classics. Things like the French 75, Ward 8, Bronx, Stork Club etc. Things my Grandfather drank, probably illegally.
In addition to all of the books listed above I would highly suggest the Difford's Guide to Cocktails #7 (the current version). It has a zillion recipes, but the part I like best is that for someone just starting to build a bar it lists a base set of spirits and mixers to purchase. Recipes that can be made from only this base set are then noted throughout the book.