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.
Whatever you want to call them—zero-proof, temperance or the questionable “mocktail”—nonalcoholic drinks are increasingly in demand. Though they were once a rarity in bars, today no drink menu is complete without at least a few virgin versions for the nondrinking set.
Luckily, a trio of new books is dedicated to the teetotalers. Each focuses on N/A cocktails, many sourced from bartenders around the country, offering a collection of sophisticated drinks that would be at home on any bar menu.
Most of the genre involves making or purchasing specialty ingredients, from fancy tinctures to infused honey. While this might be frustrating for beginners at home, most pro bartenders likely won’t flinch at this requirement, focusing instead on the end result.
Each book differs slightly in voice and viewpoint. As a litmus test, we offer each book’s stance on the most famous (or infamous) booze-free drink: the Shirley Temple.
Julia Bainbridge (Ten Speed Press, $23)
The first out of the gate, published in “Sober October” 2020, this book was informed by a cross-country road trip the author took to visit bars and sample non-alcs (her preferred term). The writing style is crisp and acidic, like many of the drinks featured in the book. Many of the recipes are labor-intensive, such as the deconstructed N/A Pimm’s, but worth the effort. Bainbridge provides a key ranking of the commitment level each drink requires. In general, the drinks featured tend toward savory, spicy, tart and dry flavor profiles.
Shirley Temple stance: The “Don’t Call Me Shirley,” sourced from Will Stewart at Houston’s Coltivare, is a tart affair. Saba, a cousin of balsamic vinegar, entwines with sherry vinegar and lemon juice. All that acid is balanced by Luxardo cherry syrup (instead of grenadine) and OJ, shaken until foamy and served in a tulip glass. A Luxardo cherry garnish remains, though it’s joined by an orange slice and a sprig of mint. “It’s far from a Shirley Temple,” says Bainbridge. “Respect it!”
Elva Ramirez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22)
The most recent arrival to this genre dropped on May 1, 2021. This insidery book is sprinkled liberally with familiar names from the bartending world. “Think like a bartender” is urged from literally the first sentence. There’s a brief history of temperance as well as the contemporary “Dry January” movement. Drinks are high effort—sous vide, hydrosols, and bespoke cordials and consommés abound—but yield multilayered libations that would be welcome on any fancy leather-bound cocktail menu. The photos are lush and enticing.
Shirley Temple stance: In Ramirez’s world, the Shirley Temple does not exist. The closest the book comes to the mocktail is the Pomegranate Phosphate, a 19th-century soda-fountain-style drink by Erick Castro of Raised by Wolves in San Diego. The cocktail stirs grenadine and acid phosphate in a pint glass with pebble ice, topping it with club soda and a lime wheel and brandied cherry garnish.
Maureen Petrosky (Robert Rose, $25)
Released in “Dry January” 2021, the vibe of this newcomer is laid-back and approachable. Drinks are brightly hued and easy to make, with plenty of tips to customize drinks to taste (“less gingery,” “less sweet,” etc.). This book comes the closest of the three to being beginner-friendly, as many of the drinks can be made without first making or purchasing a specialty ingredient and feature crowd-pleasing flavor profiles. Of note, there’s a chapter focused on low-ABV “session” drinks and another on big-batch booze-free punches and pitchers.
Shirley Temple stance: The “Shirley T” is positioned as a classic but updated with a half-ounce of strained fresh lime juice and spicy ginger beer in place of ginger ale and lengthened with club soda. Maraschino cherries—“as many as you like.” In addition, Petrosky wisely counsels simple changes in size, glassware and sweetness to transform the drink into “something more sophisticated.”