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Just like there are whiskey bottles for every taste, price point, and preference, there are whiskey books for every type of drinker. Whether your dram of choice is Scotch, bourbon, rye, or Irish whiskey, there is a full rainbow of books on whiskey that cover every topic imaginable. Some dive into niche bartending tips in the category, while others are encyclopedic deep-dives into the category. Some write from the perspective of behind the bar, while there are books penned by distilling greats for the nerdier reader.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, whiskey lovers are spoiled for choice, with books that cover recipes, history, taste, geography, and distillation. Here are the best whiskey books available right now.
Best Overall: Whiskey Master Class by Lew Bryson
“There is no shortage of great whiskey books, but 'Whiskey Master Class' by Lew Bryson stands out as the most concise and well-written all-around whiskey compendium,” says Pete Stanton, the head bartender at Ai Fiori at The Langham in New York City. “This is required reading for anyone who is entering the world of whiskey, from the budding bartender to the connoisseur.”
Stanton continues, “It’s an effortless read that provides the clearest overview of production, materials, styles, and tasting. Bryson is a master at efficiently organizing the details of each category into dense, easy-to-digest material. 'Whiskey Master Class' takes some of the dryness out of the technical aspects of whiskey education and effortlessly helps the reader understand key variables that make each whiskey unique.”
Best on Bourbon: The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar by Chad Berkey
“This book is neat—It’s basically a giant review book of 250 whiskeys by bartenders from around the country,” advises Chelsea Napper, bar manager of Yūgen in Chicago. To impart unbiased reviews and honest feedback, the bartenders blind tested every whiskey.
In addition to detailed reviews, Berkey covers historical information on every category, plus popular whiskey recipes and a few cocktail riffs of his own. And he’s one of the most qualified persons to do so: Berkey manages San Diego’s The Aero Club, home to over 900 different kinds of whiskeys.
“It’s a great way to get to know so many fantastic whiskeys, and begin a conversation about these whiskeys,” says Napper. Berkey even throws in a few cigar pairings in the pages.
Best History: Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick
Fred Minnick’s tome on the women of the whiskey world is also one of Napper’s favorites. “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. The main hero of the book is Bessie Williamson, who took over the famed Laphroaig distillery. It’s great to have women represented in this capacity.”
This book skips the tired stereotypes of women in the alcohol world (Cosmopolitans, fruit cocktails and the like) and catalogs the women who set the groundwork for today’s whiskey industry. Minnicks’ words tell the tales beautifully, and weave in tidbits about gender and alcohol throughout—did you know women could not serve liquor in public until the ‘70s?
Best for Beginners: The Complete Whiskey Course: A Comprehensive Tasting School in Ten Classes by Robin Robinson
This book is a staple for whiskey lovers of all levels. “Robin Robinson’s book 'The Complete Whiskey Course' is both entertaining and extremely informative,” vouches Jon Dubin, the brand director at Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey. “He does an incredible job comprehensively covering whiskey from A-Z in a fun and insightful manner. I would recommend this book to the new whiskey drinker as well as the connoisseur.”
Penned by author and whiskey consultant Robin Robinson, drinkers new and old will learn something in these pages. There are chapters dedicated to American and American craft whiskey, Irish whiskey, Canadian whisky, and world whiskies, covering notable distillers, recommended bottles, and other insider info on each category. Dubin claims it, “A must-have for any whiskey enthusiast!”
Best for Scotch: Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life by Heather Greene
“One of my favorite whiskey books that I read, when I began my career in the whiskey world, was 'Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life' by Heather Greene,” continues Knappogue Castle’s Dubin. “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.”
Whiskey expert Greene, New York City’s first female whiskey sommelier, provides a fresh perspective to the boy’s club that is whiskey. Keep this book on hand: it acts as a great guide to all things whiskey, with authoritative information on the category, backed up by bright visuals.
Best Vintage: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh
“While it’s not whiskey specifically, one book that I love to give to any whiskey lover is 'Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails' by Ted Haigh,” recommends Gavin Humes, the food and beverage director of Scratch Bar & Kitchen in Los Angeles. “It’s a fascinating book with tons of great old and classic cocktails that feature whiskey in all kinds of unique ways. Anyone can drink an old fashioned (and I encourage that), but this is a glimpse into the past that isn’t always easy to find.”
Historian and drink expert Ted Haigh dives into the historic recipes you didn’t know you needed to know: like the orange gin-based Flying Dutchman. Ingredients are sometimes hard to source, but each recipe is padded out with stories, full-color imagery, and historical facts.
Best Reference Book: Whisky Dictionary by Ian Wisniewski
Anthony Escalante, the lead mixologist at Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix, is a big “fan of the "Whisky Dictionary" by Ian Wisniewski because of its well-rounded nature when it comes to talking about all aspects of whiskey. From terminology to phrasing to techniques to production, basically everything you should know before getting more advanced in your learning, this book has it covered.”
It covers everything from fermentation and aging to bottlers to know in the Kentucky, Japanese, and Scotch scenes. Wisniewski’s book even covers notable whiskey moments, like the annual Keeper of the Quaich ceremony and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. “I consider this a great place to start for any whiskey enthusiast looking to further their knowledge and experience in the spirits world,” says Escalante.
Best for Cocktails: Imbibe! by David Wondrich
"'Imbibe!' by David Wondrich appeals to the nerds and the history buffs, but it’s also a great gift!” says Brooks Frost, of Hot Tin Bar in New Orleans. “It goes really in-depth with the history of multiple classic cocktails.”
The book follows the journey of Jerry Thomas, a man known as the founding father of the American bartending scene. Author Wondrich details his colorful story, plus over 100 recipes, from punches and cocktails to sours and fizzes.
Paul Gonzalez, the beverage supervisor at Delta Hotels Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites also “Thoroughly enjoyed 'Imbibe!' by David Wondrich. This book should be behind every cocktail bar because it deep dives into the history of craft bartending and the evolution of cocktails (including iconic whiskey cocktails and trends) in America over the centuries."
Best New Book: Hacking Whiskey: Smoking, Blending, Fat Washing, and Other Whiskey Experiments by Aaron Goldfarb
It must be said: this is not your average whiskey book. Aaron Goldfarb’s oddball guide to whiskey has readers mixing up everything from foie gras-infused cocktails to bourbon punch made with cereal milk to Pappy-based Jell-O shots.
“There are a plethora of books upon whiskey that I could not place one above another, as each has a wealth of knowledge and I find them incomparable. I will say that 'Hacking Whiskey: Smoking, Blending, Fat Washing, and Other Whiskey Experiments' by Aaron Goldfarb not only was enlightening but also brought fun to one's imagination on how else this spirit could be used,” says Ethan Carter, the bar manager of West Hollywood’s La Boheme.
Goldfarb’s book gives a fresh take on whiskey, covering what tools you need to smoke, fat-wash, and blend your own whiskey. He provides recipes for all the above but also gives you the tools to set out on your own. No matter how stocked your library is, this is a must.
Best Science Book: The Terroir of Whiskey by Rob Arnold
“As someone who works in the industry, I’ve had to read a lot of whiskey material and Rob Arnold’s book 'The Terroir of Whiskey' is one of my favorites," says Ale Ochoa, whiskey scientist at Forth Worth distillery Firestone & Robertson.
This one is for the nerdier spirits fans. Diving into the subject of terroir, "The Terroir of Whiskey" likens the category to wine. Just like wine, the soil, the climate, and the makers of whiskey all affect how the final spirit tastes. Arnold examines each one of these steps. “Rob crafts a compelling narrative, artfully blending science into his journey to prove the concept and impact of terroir in whiskey. He shares his inspiration in wine and connects with distillers around the world who share the same ethos of terroir. It’s a great book, for amateur and connoisseur, alike, that gives the reader a deeper look into whiskey and its potential for future innovation.”
Most Fun: The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-It-All
Bill Brooks, the beverage director at New York City's Torch & Crown Brewing Company, loves this book because “It's by [famed sommelier and spirits expert] Richard Betts and it's a great way to get into whiskey without going down the rabbit hole of knowledge. Sometimes we forget to just have fun when focusing on things. I read this book once every couple of months just so I can take a step back and remember that life should be fun and not take yourself too seriously. Then I can dive back into The Complete Whiskey Course.”
Written out like a children’s book, Betts makes the wide world of whiskey incredibly approachable, fielding questions like, “what’s the difference between scotch and rye?” and “why is whiskey spelled differently in other countries.” A scratch and sniff portion of the book helps showcase various scent profiles.
Best on Distilling: Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers
Adam Rogers’ book is a scientific romp through the whiskey world, covering a 10,000-year history of the industry. He touches on our biological responses to the spirit to why our favorite drams are so hard to resist.
Drew Johnson, head bartender of The Musket Room in New York, says “I love 'Proof: The Science of Booze' by Adam Rogers. This one isn't specifically about whiskey but goes into depth about whiskey making and more specifically malting. It is a super detailed script of how spirits are made. In addition to learning all about scotch production from grain to glass, you learn about fermentation, distillation, and the scientific processes and chemical reactions of aging bourbon in fresh charred oak barrels.”
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Kate Dingwall is an experienced spirits writer and glassware collector. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years, from the best glassware to the best beer cocktail recipes.