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3 Whiskey Books Every Bartender Needs to Read This Month

Think of each as a portable master class in spirits.

Book covers / Laura Sant

The best bartenders are also often bookworms, constantly researching the latest tastes and trends. But with so many titles to choose from, it’s easy to wind up lost in a sea of stale prose and sloppy recipes. We’ve paged through the stack to give you the essential booze books to read this month.

Sure, it would be nice to enroll in a whiskey master class to unravel and understand this vast spirits category. But the following books all take that same kind of educational approach, schooling readers in whiskey—minus the classroom.

If you don’t have a semester to devote to learning about whiskey, grab one of the following books and use it as a lesson plan. Whether you choose to speed-read or take a more leisurely approach, the expert authors of these books have laid the groundwork for deepening your whiskey knowledge. From a plain-spoken approach to tastings to a more comprehensive encyclopedia-like tome, each of the following books will arm you with fresh information about whiskey.

  • “The Complete Whiskey Course: A Comprehensive Tasting School in Ten Classes”

    The Complete Whiskey Course cover with black filigree and orange text and accents. The cover is framed by a light wood graphic pattern / Laura Sant

    Robin Robinson (Sterling Epicure, $28)

    A sprawling coffee-table-style book, this guide allots ample space to colorful photos, bottle beauty shots and even full-page guides to decoding the labels of selected whiskey bottles. It’s a book that invites you to pour a dram and settle in.

    Robinson is a longtime whiskey instructor at New York City’s Astor Center; this book is the next best thing to sitting in on one of his classes with a flight of whiskeys already poured. It’s organized by whiskey regions, and it’s clear the author’s intent is for readers to taste as they go. Bottle recommendation layouts exhort readers to “Taste This,” and each chapter concludes with a curated “Guided Tasting” section. 

    Excerpt: “Laphroaig 10 Year is where you cross over the bridge to claim your whisky-drinker badge. It’s perhaps as good a stand-in as any when the aliens land and ask you: ‘What is scotch?’ Pour them a dram of this oily, medicinal, peaty and fruit-laden elixir and watch them blast off with it, wrapped in their tentacles.”

  • “Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life”

    Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life cover, red with white text against a shadowy image of a bottle. Cover is set against light wood background / Laura Sant

    Heather Greene (Viking Studio, $25)

    When this book was first published in 2014 (the paperback, pictured, followed in 2015), Greene was the “spirits sommelier” at NYC’s Flatiron Room and a former Glenfiddich brand ambassador, and this book was novel in its approach: It encouraged readers to taste whiskey as a means of learning about it, even handing readers a “shopping list” of bottles. 

    While this book is aimed at consumers, not pros, it’s still stuffed with useful information. For industry professionals interested in guiding consumers through tastings, the book offers plenty of insight into consumer psychology and how to discuss often-complex whiskey concepts with novice drinkers. Somms also will want to scan the “whiskey for the wine lover” section to glean tips for translating between liquids.

    Today, Greene is the CEO and master blender of whiskey brand Milam & Greene, so it’s fair to assume she knows what she’s talking about.

    Excerpt: “As you approach the third or fourth whiskey in a tasting, the whiskeys miraculously become ‘smooth.’ Your brain, tongue and nose already know what to expect and are fully prepared for the experience. You adapt. The first whiskey offered up in a tasting is at a clear disadvantage, and so I am always rearranging my whiskey-tasting glass arrangements to get a better picture of a taster’s feelings about a particular whiskey brand of style. When a new student exclaims that ‘number 1’ in a lineup is his or her favorite, I know it’s a winner!”

  • “Whiskey Master Class: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, and More”

    Whiskey Master Class cover, off white with black and orange text around an illustration of a rocks glass containing brown spirit. Cover is set against a light wood patterned frame / Laura Sant

    Lew Bryson (Harvard Common Press, $27)

    The first question you’ll likely have: How can so much information fit into such a compact book? But this book outlines it all for students of whiskey, drilling down on how whiskey is made. It’s not a bottle guide (though it’s dotted with tasting notes) nor a history book nor a regional tour guide with the focus squarely on the producers. “It’s about how whiskey makers go about creating, building and integrating flavor,” Bryson explains in the first chapter, aptly titled “The Syllabus.” Even seasoned experts can flip to pretty much any page, read a section or two and walk away having learned information almost directly from the pros, filtered through Bryson’s jovial voice.

    Excerpt: “Yeast is the weirdest part of making whiskey. … I was talking about yeast to Conor O’Driscoll, the master distiller at Heaven Hill, in Louisville, Kentucky. It turned out to be his favorite topic. … The two of us were chattering away (he was chattering, I was mostly taking notes and asking him to slow down) when he suddenly stopped and cocked his head. 'I wonder,' he said, 'Has yeast merely figured out how to get us to feed it?'”

Looking to drill down on a specific whiskey-making region? Here are three more to read: