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.
From cauldron-esque cocktails billowing with liquid nitrogen “smoke” to blood-red drinks chilled with ice orbs that resemble disembodied eyeballs, Halloween-themed cocktails are popular draws at bars all October long.
While the following new releases are aimed at a consumer audience, these three books were selected as helpful inspiration for bar pros who might be seeking inspiration at this time of year.
Halloween has become an important holiday for the bar industry. According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending is expected to reach $10.14 billion in 2021, or $102.74 per person. That compares to about $8 billion in 2020, or $92.12 per person. And the holiday’s not only for kids: According to a 2019 study by marketing/CRM firm Womply, credit card transactions at bars and lounges tend to surge around Halloween, in terms of number of transactions and the size of those tickets. Spending was particularly pronounced the Saturday before the holiday, which falls on a Sunday this year. In some cities, the study found, Halloween accounts for one or more of the top sales days of the year, period.
With these statistics in mind, dive into the following books to help drive themed menus and social media posts all month long. These collections are sources of drink recipes, to be sure, but they’re also a rich vein of chilling tales and drinks-adjacent lore ideal for entertaining guests as they sip on spooky, spellbinding cocktails.
Chilling Cocktails: Classic Cocktails with a Horrifying Twist
Jason Ward (Thunder Bay Press, $13)
The concept: drinks inspired by characters from horror novels and movies. Familiar drinks are reborn in incarnations inspired by movies; for instance, the Bloody Mary becomes the “Bloody Marion,” named for a character in Psycho, while Planter’s Punch is reborn as “Redrum,” a reference to The Shining. The deep-dive movie synopses written by Ward, a journalist who writes about film, are where this book really shines. For example, not only is the classic Sex on the Beach transformed into the “Reckless ’80s Teenager,” it’s accompanied by a lively explainer about the plot of Friday the 13th and its cultural significance.
Excerpt: “Denouncing teenage sexuality, while simultaneously leering over it, Friday the 13th shows how successful a horror franchise can be with a good mask and a memorable theme tune, and also how you could get away with just about anything in the 1980s. Speaking of which: the main ingredients of Sex on the Beach are peach schnapps, vodka, melted Rubik’s Cubes, a Wham! cassingle, and orange juice.
Moon, Magic, Mixology: From Lunar Love Spell Sangria to the Solar Eclipse Sour, 70 Celestial Drinks Infused with Cosmic Power
Julia Halina Hadas (Adams Media, $17)
This follow-up from the author of 2020’s WitchCraft Cocktails, another useful addition to the spooky cocktail book genre, this book focuses on the “mystical connection between the moon and drink.” Overall, it’s a gentle, dreamy look at “lunar libations” that leans into Wiccan rituals and the astrological signs of the moon. Sections on “Lunar Spirits” and “Edible Elements” contain some particularly interesting tidbits that can yield talking points about various potions; for example, anise, nutmeg, or clove can be used for purification, while dill is helpful to release hexes.
Excerpt: “Due to its sweetening nature, sugarcane is an attractant, used to sweeten people up to others and draw in love. In many cultural traditions, sugar is left as an offering, and its love energy can help dispel negativity. In magical mixology, the power of sugarcane is invoked most directly through rum and syrups but also through anything that has cane sugar added.”
Spirits of the Otherworld: A Grimoire of Occult Cocktails and Drinking Rituals
Allison Crawbuck and Rhys Everett (Prestel, $20)
Blending mixology and magic, this book examines the esoteric philosophies that have fueled the dark arts of their times, and links them to themed cocktails like the Oak and Mistletoe, reminiscent of ancient European forests, or the Do What Thou Wilt, which pays homage to the secretive Hellfire Club. The authors know how to mix a drink and weave a tale: They’re co-owners of a London cocktail bar and co-directors of The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History (in which the bar is housed). Of note, many of the drinks feature Devil’s Botany, an absinthe brand owned by the co-authors.
Excerpt: “We may never know exactly what happened behind closed doors at the Hellfire Club, but their hedonist motto ‘Fais ce que tu voudras’ (‘Do what thou wilt’) certainly leads the mind to wander. Secrecy was of the utmost importance, and details of the club’s affairs were to go to the grave with its members. As the days of the order were coming to an end, any records that once existed were destroyed—that is, except for an inventory of the wine cellar’s remains. On 15 October 1774, in addition to many bottles of sherry and Dorchester beer, the Hellfire Club’s members are said to have left behind a melange of hock, claret, port, and rum. From this intoxicating collection of spirits, prepare a cocktail that will appeal to any pleasure-seeker.”