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With the meteoric peak in interest in all things bourbon, and the nearly $2 billion bourbon boom in recent years, naturally, a variety of books have been written to match the unending thirst for this classic American-born whiskey.
Not unlike the ever-expanding amount of bourbon bottles on liquor shelves these days, there is a seemingly endless assortment of books that cover this popular spirit. Luckily, we're here to help refine them down to our absolute favorites.
From industry-focused tomes to deep dives into the rich and complex history of distilling whiskey, this curated list will satisfy every type of bourbon enthusiast, from the bourbon curious to the hard core nerds. Some, already instant classics, and others are more under the radar or new to market, here are the best bourbon books to get this year.
Best Overall: Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey
If you’re interested in the economic history of bourbon, this is just the book for you. In “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey,” author Reid Mitenbuler examines the intricacies of politics, organized crime, capitalism, people, and craftsmanship that have shaped the bourbon category over time.
Of course, the past generally serves as some sort of indication of the present and future of an industry, and Mitenbuler’s words on the future of the bourbon business are nothing if not compelling. This book helps to pull the curtain back on bourbon storytelling, which is often romanticized by those who sell it.
Best Lifestyle: Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon?
This thorough and fun-to-read book is the ultimate gift for the consummate bourbon-loving host in your life. Co-authors Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler, both American whiskey royalty in their own rights, take readers on a journey through every element of what it takes to put on a successful bourbon tasting party in a way that’s digestible for both novices and expert-level drinkers. Plus, the photography is seriously easy on the eyes.
"These Kentucky natives have such a deep well of knowledge about all things bourbon. They've both been empowering women (and men) to enjoy bourbon for years and have turned bourbon tastings into an art form." — Prairie Rose, Editor
Best Educational: The Bourbon Bible
While there are probably too many whiskey books with the word “bible” in the title, this one actually puts its money where its mouth is thanks to author Eric Zandona’s sharp and pointed take on the bourbon industry through his dissection of 140 different bourbons.
Zandona, who works as the Director of Spirits Information at the American Distilling Institute, profiles each bourbon individually and includes key facts alongside aroma and tasting notes; he also shares 20 cocktail recipes within the book, all while acknowledging the impact of colonization and slave ownership on the industry. Consider your sipping, mixing, and educational endeavors covered.
Best General: Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
Heather Greene’s “Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life” is a broad yet concise look at the international whiskey scene as a whole, and how bourbon exists within it.
“Heather’s depth of knowledge of spirits goes way beyond whiskey,” says Marianne Eaves, the first female master distiller in Kentucky and founder of the Eaves Blind tasting experience. “This book provides a fresh insight into global whiskeys—especially craft American bourbon distillers—and brings to light the beauty in the nuances of how they are made.”
“The book does such a great job of truly opening your eyes to the world of whiskey in a very easy-to-read and digestible way. I’d certainly recommend sipping on a fine whiskey while consuming this book.” — Jon Dubin, brand director at Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey
Related: The Best Gifts for Bourbon Lovers
Best Cocktail Book: The Bourbon Bartender: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the American Spirit
Bourbon isn’t just for sipping neat or on ice—in fact, there are countless cocktails (both classic and original) that are defined by bourbon’s sweet roundness, and there are no two authorities better suited than New York City cocktail legends Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik to explain how it all works behind the bar. If you’re a cocktail enthusiast who loves bourbon, this is the book for you.
Best Cookbook: The Best Bourbon Cookbook: Booze-Infused Sweet & Savory Recipes
Cooking with bourbon is not for the faint of heart, nor is baking, which is perhaps more of a science than simply pouring a few ounces of the spirit into a bisque. In “The Best Bourbon Cookbook: Booze-Infused Sweet & Savory Recipes,” author Christina Tosch lays out recipe after recipe for both savory dishes and various desserts alongside a few easy-to-make cocktails. This book is self-published but is widely available for purchase online.
Related: The Best Whiskey Books
Best History: Bourbon Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey
While it might have been more ideal for a female author to have told this story, whiskey expert Fred Minnick does a great job of telling the stories of the bourbon industry’s unsung heroes. Women have played integral roles in brewing, distilling, and winemaking since the very beginning, but rarely are they given the credit they are due—Minnick’s accounts of some of the most notable women in whiskey history make for a gratifying read.
“Women in the whiskey industry isn’t something I was completely aware of, and reading this, you get to know the women behind Bushmill’s and Maker’s Mark. It’s great to have women represented in this capacity.” — Chelsea Napper, bar manager of Yūgen in Chicago
Best Memoir: But Always Fine Bourbon : Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald
Get to know the story behind famed distillery Stitzel Weller, which is one and the same with the Van Winkle family’s history—this aesthetically-pleasing whiskey book is penned by none other than Sally Van Winkle Campbell, granddaughter of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle, and covers the Van Winkle legacy in striking detail. This coffee table book is ideal for whiskey nerds, collectors, and history buffs alike.
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Céline Bossart is a longtime wine and spirits writer who covers all things potable with a focus on the sociopolitical dynamics within the industry. Her current favorite bourbon is Coopers’ Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which she tends to sip neat or in an Old Fashioned (fun fact: it’s also excellent in fondue).
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