A “canon” is supposed to be the collection of (mostly written) works that most influence and define a field. Usually that means the works of highest quality, but the most influential and discussed might not always be objectively the best works. Implied here is some sort of “general acceptance”—agreement by a significant number of people as to what is important. So, a canon is inherently debatable and no one version is likely to make everyone happy. Moreover, unless the field is dead (no longer evolving or progressing) then a canon is also a living list—a moving target—that alters gradually as the times changes, and perhaps as priorities change.
Is there merit in the discussion? Where do you draw the line between an interesting book and an essential one? Is it enough to offer some “firsts”? How do you deal with multiple editions? What if a cherished work is mostly plagiarism? Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to whether you want a small, tidy, less assailable canon, or a large, sprawling one? Perhaps there are multiple tiers?
To my knowledge, there hasn’t really been that much discussion of what might comprise the Cocktail Canon and why.
Below is a working list of candidates running up until the 1970s:
Oxford Night Caps, various editions beginning 1827
First publication dedicated to mixed drink recipes; many useful punch recipes documented.
Jerry Thomas, How To Mix Drinks, 1862
First collection of American-style mixed drinks to be printed, organized thoughtfully in a manner that stuck, supplied context and first-hand knowledge, formalized the craft, and set stage for the evolution of mixed drinks from that point forward. This was combined in one volume with Christian Schultz’s Manual for the Manufacture of Cordials, &c., to form the Bon-Vivant’s Companion.
Turenne, La véritable manière de faire Punch, 1866
The first book wholly devoted to Punch, or indeed to any category of mixed drink.
Charles Campbell’s American Barkeeper, 1867 [the ripoff of Thomas’ self-published 1863 Portrait Gallery of Eminent Barkeepers, of which copies existed at the time of his death, although none has yet been found.]
The recipes here often overlap Thomas’s 1862 ones, but are not plagiarized from that book, plus there are a number of unique ones, along with a couple of pages on bartending and a supplement on the Punches created by Vincenzo Squarza, which were San Francisco favorites.
"William Terrington," Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, 1869
The English school of mixed drinks, but at the point where the American influence was growing fast.
Haney’s Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual, 1869
Vital corroborating reference to 1860s drinks; not just a rip-off of Thomas; “New and Expanded Edition” tacks on four pages at the end including the John Collins recipe published in the August, 1873 New York Sun article on mixed drinks.
“Fancy American Drinks” article from New York Sun, August 22, 1873, p. 3
First substantial popular writing about cocktails; contains much of interest despite rampant garbling of drink names by the journalist. Nonetheless, this is the foundational text of drinks journalism: widely reprinted all around America, it led to articles about bartenders and their drinks becoming a journalistic staple.
Leo Engel, American & Other Drinks, 1878
First book entirely devoted to the American school of mixed drinks published in London. Engel, a German, had worked in Brooklyn and New York, including a stint working for Jerry Thomas.
Jerry Thomas (posthumous), How To Mix Drinks, 1876
New edition, possibly executed without Thomas’ involvement, and now published as standalone book; updated with more cocktails, flips, fixes and daisies, showing the growth and evolution of the craft.
Harry Johnson, New & Improved Bartender’s Manual, 1882
First book to discuss setting up a bar program including cocktails; includes many recipes considered significant; also first German cocktail book, as author published a version in his native tongue
O. H. Byron, Modern Bartender’s Guide, 1884
Pseudonymous book significant mainly for early appearances of various recipes, including some of the earliest featuring vermouth.
Charlie Paul, American and Other Drinks, various editions beginning 1884
Jerry Thomas (posthumous)., How To Mix Drinks, 1887
Major posthumous re-edit and update further showing the growth and evolution of the craft; includes various new cocktail recipes including vermouth drinks (Manhattan, Martinez).
Theodore Proulx, Bartender’s Manual, 1888
One of first cocktail-related publications from Chicago; earliest (but garbled) Old Fashioned recipe; intriguing take on the Cocktail, Martini and Manhattan.
Harry Johnson, New & Improved Bartender’s Manual, 1888
Like the Thomas editions, helps track the evolution and growth of the craft; adds a few notable recipes.
Also adds a massive section on how to run a bar, the first of its kind, which makes this a foundational text.
William Schmidt, The Flowing Bowl, 1891
Lavish first cocktails-as-culinary-art book; unprecedented quantity of idiosyncratic originals and quasi-originals; lots of drinks named for journalists; arguably first “startender” book; begins to blur the line between trade literature and popular literature.
George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks, 1895
Generally held as the third major work on American drinks after Thomas and Johnson, M.A.D. focuses on making specific drinks, with carefully written prose. An important corroborating source for the 1890s craft, the book is highly prized by modern mixologists for its clear, well-balanced recipes. “Kappeler” is apparently another pseudonym.
Louis Fouquet, Bariana, 1896
John Applegreen, Applegreen’s Bar Book, 1899
A very compentent summary of the art as it stood by a top Chicago bartender.
The Cocktail Book: A Sideboard Manual for Gentlemen, various editions beginning 1900
Probably the first full-length cocktail book not aimed at the trade. Published in both Boston and London.
Tim Daly, Daly’s Bartender’s Encyclopedia, 1903
Frank Newman, American-Bar, 1904
Jack Grohusko, Jack’s Manual, various editions beginning 1908
Jorge Gasparo, Guia Practica del Cantinero, 1909
Schonfeld & Leybold, Lexicon der getränke, 1913
A vast number of drinks, including more then two hundred recipes for the signature shots of the regiments of the Imperial German army; the foundational text for the German school of mixology.
Bill Boothby, World’s Drinks 1908
Third and fourth editions of first and most important San Francisco bar book, somewhat similar to Kappeler in format, like Johnson also contains a lot of material on bartending, presents a large number of corroborating recipes from the West Coast.
Charles Mahoney, Hoffman House Bartender’s, various editions
Jacques Straub, Drinks, 1914
First edition (“Manual of Mixed Drinks”) is 1913, but the reformatted pocket-size 1914 edition (trade reference) sets a new bar for terse density, helps introduce various important drinks, captures the repertoire (thinly disguised) of the big brass rail at the Waldorf-Astoria, and, with 292 cocktail recipes, shows how much mixology has expanded in forty years.
Juan Escalante, Manual del Cantinero, 1915
Extremely early Cuban cocktail book interesting as snapshot of in-process importation of American mixed drinks to Cuba; introduces El Presidente.
Tom Bullock, Ideal Bartender, 1917
First cocktail book by an African American bartender; quite a few interesting drinks and familiar ones that help corroborate from the center of the country.
Hugo Ennslin, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, 1917
Second edition generally considered the last major cocktail book in the US prior to Prohibition; includes a slew of important and interesting recipes from the teens.
Julian Anderson, Julian’s Recipes, 1919
The second cocktail book published by an African-American bartender.
Robert Vemeire, Cocktails, 1922
Perhaps the most successful cocktail book ever, particularly in Europe; well-edited snapshot of the time; helps introduce a number of new drinks including the Sidecar.
Harry McElhone, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, various editions beginning 1922
An enormously influential look at the bartender’s art as it was understood in London and, later, in France in the years right after the Great War. A number of the drinks receive attributions, including the Sidecar. Updated sporadically with new drinks.
Pujol & Muñiz, Manual del Cantinero, 1924
Mostly drawn from Ensslin, although with the names of a majority, or close to it, heavily garbled, and the addition of a number of key Cuban (e.g., the Mary Pickford) and International (the Americano) drinks.
Toye & Adair, Drinks Long & Short, 1925
First “foodie” cocktail book (London)
Marcel Requien et al, l’Heure du Cocktail, 1927
Captures popular mixology in France in the 1920s
Judge, Jr., Here’s How, four editions 1927-1930
Distinctive pseudonymous Prohibition-era curiosities packed with many undrinkable recipes, but presented with mirth; largely referenced for the first French 75 recipe.
Gerardo Corrales et al, Manual Oficial del Club de Cantineros, 1930
Culmination of Cuban mixology in a trade reference.
Harry McElhone, Barflies & Cocktails, 1927
McElhone’s ABC with illustrations and a large supplement devoted to the bar’s customers, including an important section on their favorite drinks.
Pedro Chicote, El Bar Americano en España, 1927
Rip, Cocktails de Paris, 1929
Harry Craddock, Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930
Visually magnificent, hugely popular and influential; also almost entirely plagiarized and the source of some misinformation; problematic.
“Jimmy”, Cocktails by “Jimmy” late of Ciro’s, 1930
Albert Stevens Crockett, Old Waldorf Bar Days, 1931
Sloppy Joe’s Cocktail Manual, various editions beginning 1932?
These are fun, but not sure they’re canon material
Julien J. Proskauer, What’ll You Have?, 1933
TBD – not sure this belongs here
Bar La Florida Cocktails, various editions beginning 1933
The recipes of Constante Ribalaigua, who was probably the king of 20th-century bartenders. Hugely influential original drinks and impeccably-balanced versions of the classics. One of the Ur-sources of the Tiki movement.
Patrick Gavin Duffy, Official Mixer’s Manual, 1934
The most influential and concerted effort by an American publisher in the years after Repeal to comprehensively restore both the pre-Prohibition recipe book of the American bar and update it with everything significant developed (mostly abroad) in the years since; thoughtfully organized by base (first printings featured a thumb index)
Oscar Neirath, Rund um die bar, 1934
One of the first attempts at a comprehensive history of the American school of drinking, plus an exhaustive treatment of the tools, techniques and standard categories of mixed drink; illustrated with photographs.
Leo Cotton, Old Mr Boston Official Bartenders Guide, 1935
First hardcover edition of the extremely successful Old Mr. Boston series, vastly more ambitious than the pamphlets that preceded it. Distributed on a vast scale, the Old Mr. Boston guides did more than any other book to set the canon of American cocktails.
Frank Meier, Artistry of Mixing Drinks, 1936
Unusually lavish cocktail book capturing the mixed drink recipes of a top French hotel bar at its peak.
Elvezio Grassi, 1000 misture, 1936
A book so unique as to be almost surreal. A little bit of history, which is uncorroboratable, followed by a vast number of recipes, most of them unique and completely idiosyncratic. 22 vodka drinks, 35 Batavia arrack drinks, all kinds of oddities.
Stanley Clisby Arthur, Famous New Orleans Drinks…, 1937
First book to really concern itself with the history of particular drinks; alas, most of the histories are unreliable, if not outright fabrications, although there are plenty of nuggets of verifiable fact to be found.
var., Approved Cocktails…UKBG, 1937
Formal collection of recipes capturing the twenty years of mixology in England propelled by Prohibition in America.
W. J. Tarling, Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, 1937
Major anthology of recipes by one of the UKBG’s leaders in parallel to the UKBG’s Approved Cocktails of same year.
Gale & Marco, The How and When, 1937, 1940, 1945 and 1949
Lavish hardcover books containing wine and spirits guidance and hefty recipe collections, published by Chicago liquor store chain for their customers. Unusually well done.
Charles Baker, The Gentleman’s Companion…, 1939
Amongst the most famous and distinctive popular works on mixed drinks; marries the “adventure writer” style of such as Richard Halliburton to foodie writing; distinctly amateur and dilettante but also very influential.
Crosby Gaige, Cocktail Guide & Ladies’ Companion, 1941
Mostly of use for the section at the beginning where top bars in New York contribute drinks and write about them; one of the early reference points for the Bloody Mary.
H. i. Williams, 3 Bottle Bar, 1943
Popular work aimed at home use novelly explores mixological minimalism, identifying patterns in drink formulae and perfectly anticipating post war asceticism.
Lucius Beebe, Stork Club Bar Book, 1946
A widely popular book from the premiere bar in America at the time, including a number of original drinks.
Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic’s Book of Food & Drink, 1946
David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 1947
Setting aside exercises in basic categorization that began with Jerry Thomas, this is the first theoretical book on cocktails; amateur and quixotic in the proportions it uses for its drinks, it is nonetheless indispensable.
Victor Bergeron, Bartender’s Guide by Trader Vic, 1947
Bernard DeVoto, The Hour, 1949
Charles Baker, The South American Gentleman’s Companion…, 1951
Second helping of Charles Baker in the exact same manner as the first; does contain glimpses of mid-Century mixed drink scenes in Latin America.
Jack Townsend & Tom Moore McBride, The Bartender’s Book, 1951
An attempt to cut through the bullshit and present a restricted canon of drinks related to what people were actually drinking in American bars, often with acerbic comments. Townsend was the president of the New York bartender’s Union, and would have gotten along well with Jeffery Morgenthaler.
Ted Saucier, Bottom’s Up, 1951
Arguably the last major work of the first era of the cocktail; lavish, but also well edited; documented gobs of new drinks.
Santiago “Pichin” Policastro, Tragos mágicos, 1955
Argentina’s star bartender; a very mod 1950s classic.
Lawrence Blochman: Here’s How! A Round the World Bar Guide, 1957
Compiled by the Overseas Press Club, who really had been everywhere and drank with the locals.
Ted Saucier, Bottom’s Up: New and Revised Edition, 1962
Significant editorial update to the first edition mainly to add many new drinks; documents both the rise of vodka cocktails and the emergence of the debased mixology to come.
Playboy’s Host & Party Book, 1971
One of the only ambitious, carefully assembled references of this time period
On Drink, Kingsley Amis, 1972
Roberto Costa, Traçado geral das batidas, 1974
Apparently the first Brazilian drinks book.
Stan Jones, Jones’ Complete Bar Guide, 1977
Probably the largest collection of mixed drink recipes published up to this point, tersely, but neatly presented; intended to encapsulate the entire genre; published during the nadir of public interest
Vincent Sardi Jr. and George Shea, Sardi’s Bar Guide, 1988
A thorough, sometimes mordant, look at the art of drink as it stood at the end of the Dark Ages.
María Dolores Boadas, Los cócteles del Boadas Cocktail Bar, 1990
A monument to Barcelona’s great cocktail bar.
Here are some candidates from the current era:
Lowell Edmunds, The Silver Bullet, 1981
Academic essay on the Martini Cocktail, particularly from a cultural perspective.
William Grimes, Straight Up or On the Rocks, 1993
Concise, well-researched popular history of mixed drinks as American culture; the first accurate book of its kind and the foundation for subsequent works on the topic, such as Wondrich’s Imbibe. Lightly revised second edition in 2002.
Jeff Berry, Beachbum Berryʼs Grog Log, 1994/1998
The beginning of exotic drink archaeology.
Charles Schumann, American Bar, 1995
The foundational text of the rebirth of cocktail culture in Germany.
Paul Harrington, Cocktail, 1998
The book, expanding on the Harrington’s Hotwired Cocktail Time web site, that was (for about four years) the foundational text of the rebirth of cocktail culture in the United States.
Dale DeGroff, The Craft of the Cocktail, 2002
Foundational text of the rebirth of cocktail culture in the United States, basically supplanting Harrington; builds a bridge from first cocktail era to the new one.
Jeff Berry, Intoxica, 2002
Milestone in the archaeology of exotic drinks.
Gary Regan, Joy of Mixology, 2003
Probably the leading popular reference for cocktails in the first decade of the renaissance; also significant as—in its own way—the second theoretical work on cocktails.
Toby Cecchini, Cosmopolitan, 2003
First bartender memoir of the cocktail renaissance (although most of the story pre-dates)
Ted Haigh, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, 2004
Broadly influential guide to less obvious classic recipes, particularly ones with ingredients that were obscure in the 2000s (supplanted by expanded, improved 2009 edition)
Nick Mautone, Raising the Bar, 2004
One of first—certainly most fully realized—contemporary drinks book (post-1990s) defining a distinct culinarily-focused style of mixology, mainly for home use; also a template for the photography-laden style of cocktail book publishing that begins in this era
Jeff Berry, Taboo Table, 2005
Milestone in the archaeology of exotic drinks
David Wondrich, Imbibe, 2007
State of the art (as of 2007) of scholarship on the first era of mixology (supplanted by second edition in 2015).
Wayne Curtis, And A Bottle Of Rum…, 2007/2018
Concise, well-researched popular history of the most sprawling and opaque spirit category; significantly revised in 2018
Jeff Berry, Sippin Safari, 2007/2017
The most important book ever written about exotic drinks both for its historical content, detective work, and the sheer volume of authoritative drink recipes that previously unavaialble.
Page & Dornenburg, The Flavor Bible, 2008
Sprawling reference to flavor affinities not specifically related to drinks, but which was greatly influential as contemporary mixology grew more expansively adventurous.
Darcy O’Neil, Fix the Pumps, 2009
History and recipes of the all-but-forgotten pharmacy soda fountain culture that generally paralleled and competed with American bar culture, with occasional points of intersection.
Kazuo Uyeda, Cocktail Techniques, 2010
First book detailing the Japanese cocktail aesthetic and technique—albeit from one point of view—translated to English and disseminated in the West; trade book
David Wondrich, Punch, 2010
Unique, exhaustive work on the history and recipes of multi-serving punches.
Jim Meehan, PDT Cocktail Book, 2011
First and perhaps most successful recipe book from a specific bar of the cocktail renaissance.
Tony Conigliaro, The Cocktail Lab, 2013
First book presenting the more science- and lab-driven “deconstructivist” approach to cocktails cross-applied from the extreme culinary world (Blumenthal, Adriá et al) [note: Kevin Liu’s more obscure Craft Cocktails at Home was published around the same time]
Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist, 2013
Uniquely approachable guide to the botanical world of spirits [I know this sold well and was appreciated in principle, but was it actually influential in the end?]
Dave Arnold, Liquid Intelligence, 2014
Unique analytical work on mixology, presenting research on diverse practical topics such as chilling and dilution, also application of new non-traditional techniques and technologies.
Jeff Berry, Potions of the Caribbean, 2014
First attempt at the sprawling history of the drinks of the Caribbean; essential context for exotic drink history, as well as general mixology.
David Wondrich, Imbibe Second Edition, 2015
State of the art (as of 2015) of scholarship on the first era of mixology.
Robert Simonson, A Proper Drink, 2016
History of record of the cocktail renaissance.
Sasha Petraske, Regarding Cocktails, 2016
Posthumous and fragmentary, but captures the drinks and some of the other aspects of the indispensable New York bar at the start of the cocktail renaissance.
Jim Meehan, Meehan’s Bartender Manual, 2017
The first broadly published guide to creating and running a contemporary (post-1990s) cocktail program, in the spirit of Harry Johnson and Charley Mahoney
Grant Achatz et al, Aviary Cocktail Book, 2018
More art book than anything practical, documents the absolute extreme reached in conceptually, technically and culinarily complex mixed drinks