Gary Regan is a prolific writer. In addition to turning out columns for the San Francisco Chronicle, Wine Enthusiast Magazine and Bartender Magazine, he has written a number of noteworthy books, including The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys, The Martini Companion, New Classic Cocktails and The Bartender’s Bible.

With more than a half million copies in print of The Bartender’s Bible, you might wonder why Regan felt compelled to write The Joy of Mixology. The answer is not so much in the 400 recipes (although it is a great collection) as it is in the depth of understanding and sense of bartending history that flows throughout the book.

Regan has spent time behind the stick, and like anyone at the top of his craft, recognizes that there are various levels of proficiency among those who perform a specific job. He has coined the phrase, “Cocktailians,” to signify the very highest form in the art of bartending. It is more than knowing how to pull a draft or mix a drink. A Cocktailian goes beyond knowing the basic recipes to understanding how to get just the right flavor and balance in every drink.

The author tips his hat to more than a few famous Cocktailians and along the way gives the history of some legendary watering holes, along with the origins of some popular drinks. The book breaks down each element of the bartender’s craft, from handling problem customers to pouring a layered drink. If you know anyone who is just starting out as a bartender—or has been tending bar for years—this book is a great gift because it will help them understand their craft better than any recipe book they will ever read.

In addition to informative chapters on glassware and bartending tools, Regan explains in detail the need and uses for a variety of ingredients in the “Foundations of a Bar” chapter. If you want to know the difference between simple syrup and orgeat syrup, this is the place to turn.

Regan leaves traditional drink categories behind to introduce the concept of “families,” such as Florida Highballs (drinks with orange or grapefruit juice) and New England Highballs (cranberry juice) or Juleps (mint) and Snappers (variations on the Bloody Mary). Regan believes that the families make the drinks easier to understand for the average mixologist and, hopefully, more enjoyable for the person for whom the drink is being made.

Regan’s book is not the kind of quick reference tool you will want to keep behind the bar in case someone asks for a drink that you are unsure about, although it can serve that purpose. Instead, it is much more of a textbook on the philosophy of how to tend bar in a way that keeps customers happy and coming back.