I’m a lifelong reader, in addition to being a book critic for the past many years, so when I began my education in cocktails and spirits, it was inevitable that I turned to books for information. Over the past few years, I’ve collected the best volumes for my library that I can find. Poring over them has taught me most of what I know, and the experience has been invaluable.
Here are several of the books that I have learned from or enjoyed the most. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but if you’re looking to learn more, these would be a great place to start. If you have any favorites you’d like to suggest, please leave a comment below.
(Note that I’ve left several of the classics off this list, either because they’re out-of-print, expensive, or otherwise hard to get. I wanted to recommend things that people can easily find if they’re curious.)
Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail was the first drinks book I read, so it will always have a special place in my heart. DeGroff is a legendary bartender for good reason — he was the crucial figure in jump-starting the craft cocktail movement of the 1990’s and the return of bartending to its historical roots. Filled with great recipes and great stories, this is invaluable and a terrific read.
The book that taught me how to Tiki. I only had a vague knowledge of Tiki drinks and the men who created them before I read Jeff Berry’s books, but he started me down the path to what has become my favorite “genre” of cocktails. It’s hard to overstate the importance of his work on modern drinking. (Plus, if it hadn’t been for this book, there would be no Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde.)
A vastly entertaining book from the former spirits columnist of The Washington Post. Jason Wilson traveled far and wide, searching out the best in booze, and he recounted his adventures in this volume. This is a book that a general reader — as opposed to just a cocktail enthusiast — can definitely enjoy.
Another book that the average reader with only a modest interest in drinking can still appreciate. Eric Felten wrote about booze for The Wall Street Journal for many years, and this brings together some of his best work. In it, Felten examines our enduring cultural connection to drinking, relating the history of a variety of cocktails with interesting and often amusing stories.
A comprehensive guide to spirits from the Man with the Golden Palate. F. Paul Pacult is the dean of spirits critics, and I’ve learned more about tasting spirits from him than anyone else. This book is a little outdated now, but it’s definitely still worth reading. Here’s hoping he published a new edition soon! (Its an expensive book, but if it stops you from buying even a couple bottles of bad booze, it’s worth it.)
Another invaluable book, not just for its collection of recipes, but for its introduction of Regan’s remarkable system for analyzing and categorizing drinks, helping us not only to understand them better (and remember how to make them), but to guide us in creating drinks of our own.
Probably the most remarkable new book dedicated to cocktails in many years. One of the world’s top bartenders shares his knowledge — along with an extraordinary collection of recipes. Plus, it’s a gorgeous book. (See the complete review.)
If you want to learn about bourbon (and rye and Tennessee whiskey), this is the book to read. Chuck Cowdery is the master, and he gives the unvarnished history and no-nonsense truth — a rare things in the bourbon world, which is filled with more tall tales than the halls of Congress.
American history as seen through the bottom of a glass. Wayne Curtis combines two of my interests — booze and history — in one book. How could I not like it? And I think you will, too. Curtis has an interesting take on history that is both literate and fun to read.
Although most people don’t know his name, Jerry Thomas was a remarkable figure in the history of alcohol and drinking in America. Thomas was the world’s first “celebrity” bartender and the author of the first major bartending book. Wondrich takes us through Thomas’s work, along with lively commentary and reliable recreations of the recipes he made famous. A great piece of drinks history.
Another book that dives into the depths of some of the classic drinks of the past that have fallen by the wayside. Good recipes and interesting commentary — and since Ted Haigh is a graphic designer in Hollywood, it has beautiful visuals as well.
A little more esoteric than some of the rest, but a remarkable history. (And another lovely book to look at.) Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of bitters — which began as health tonics — up through their essential addition to cocktails. This book tells you everything you need to know on the subject, including how to make your own.