The best bartenders are also 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.
Even if your next trip is a mere daydream right now, grab these guidebooks. Each will help further your drink-related knowledge while expanding your boozy horizons, inspire future journeys or simply provide a much-needed dose of armchair travel.
Tristan Stephenson (Ryland Peters & Small, $25)
Readers will want to keep in mind that this is a British whiskey writer penning a guide to America’s whiskey distilleries. That point of view informs this mashup of first-person travel narrative and geeky, informative deep-dive into whiskey history and production. The book encompasses 44 distilleries and includes tasting notes, lots of beautiful photos, cocktail recipes and all-American “road trip playlists.”
Excerpt: “No two distilleries are the same. But if you were to average out all of the small distilleries in America today into one balanced representation of what a ‘craft’ distillery looks like … it would look a lot like Reservoir: a hands-on approach where very little is left to chance and authenticity is prized above all else.”
“The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book, or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask”
Charles H. Baker (multiple editions, $16)
Baker was a writer and bon vivant, not a bartender. But this collection of 250 drinks, first published in 1939, is essential reading for bartenders and would-be travelers alike. He created a style that’s not quite travelogue, not quite cocktail book, but it blurs the lines in an entertaining way: His ruminations are fun to read, even if the recipes may need a little tweaking. You’ll recognize many of the far-flung drinks—the Mexican Firing Squad, the Pan Am Clipper, the Remember the Maine—that have been adapted for modern-day bar menus.
Excerpt: “Swiss yodeler, which we employed once at Villa d’Este, which is on Lake Como. We always wondered what made those Swiss alpenstock wielders such staunch and hardy fellows, so consider this for a warmer-up of waning flesh. The egg white is heavier than most absinthe cocktails: absinthe, 1 jigger; anis, or anisette, 1 tsp; egg, white 1. Shake well with cracked ice and pour frothing in a tall cocktail glass with stem.”
Lonely Planet Food (Lonely Planet; $20)
From the Lonely Planet guidebook franchise, this is a servicey, far-ranging guide to distilleries all over the world, culled from a wide range of contributors and covering 33 countries. Each compact snapshot gives the essential details for getting to the distillery and what visitors will find there, as well as a shortlist of (nondistillery-related) things to do nearby. Another interesting feature: notes on how to request a neat pour of spirits in various countries (“pur” in Switzerland, “sec” in France, “sutoreito” [straight] in Japan).
Excerpt: “There can be no greater transparency for drinkers than touring the distilleries themselves. … Tour a distillery and you could well get unparalleled access to the master distillers, who take no greater pleasure than bending your ear to tell you how the spirits are made, what to mix them with and when to drink them—information that could never be gleaned from the back of a bottle in a shop.”