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.
If you tend to remember every detail about how a certain bottle looks, but all the verbiage from that Zoom lecture about the distillery has long slipped away, congratulations: You might be a visual learner.
Growing numbers of bar books are starting to recognize that not everyone learns the same way. Visual learners in particular absorb information best when they can see it, as in photos, illustrations, charts or maps. (By comparison, auditory learners need to hear information, while kinetic learners do best when they can engage in activities to understand a concept.)
For those who want to learn about drinks, the message is, Show me, don’t just tell me.
The trend toward more image-rich bar books has been on a trajectory in recent years. Books structured around flowcharts and grids, such as Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology and Cocktail Codex, from the Death & Co team, are often cited as favorite references with good reason. Similarly, Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske diagrams individual cocktails to show its components at a glance. It’s no coincidence that all three of these books, as well as two of the three below, were penned by career bartenders.
Cocktail Dive Bar: Real Drinks, Fake History, and Questionable Advice from New Orleans’s Twelve Mile Limit
T. Cole Newton (Running Press, $25)
Written by the owner of New Orleans bar Twelve Mile Limit, this book is close to a traditional cocktail guide, with recipes plus essays on service philosophy, cocktail science and other topics.
That said, the graphic drawings by Bazil Zerinsky and Laura Sanders underscore some of the topics and drink themes in a lively way. For example, the Mantis, a rhum-agricole-based drink loosely based on the classic Grasshopper, is made memorable thanks to a drawing of a giant deranged robot praying mantis poised to devour a teeny grasshopper in a Martini glass.
Brian D. Hoefling (Abbeville Press Publishers, $25)
What makes this book so appealing is that each drink recipe is accompanied by an eight-spoked “wheel” representing the ways the base spirit is affected by the other ingredients in the drink. The eight sections, or “octants,” flag the various components that can affect sweetness, sourness, bitterness or savoriness; they can also aromatize, aerate, lengthen or thicken a drink. The more color added to the wheel, the greater the degree of impact.
For example, the classic Mint Julep is depicted with bourbon at its center, with a small amount of sweetener (sugar) and moderate amount of aromatization (from the mint) shaded in the spokes.
Whisky: It’s Not Rocket Science: A Quick & Easy Graphic Guide to Understanding, Tasting & Drinking Whisky
Mikaël Guidot (Hamlyn, $25)
The subtitle says it all. This is a (mostly) graphic introduction to whisky aimed at beginners, and it covers a very broad swath: how and where it’s made, how to taste it, mix it and even cook with it. Of note, this is part of a franchise (coffee and wine are also “not rocket science”), and it was originally published in France in 2016; the English-language version was released in 2020.
The illustrations by Yannis Varoutsikos make paging through an easy task. For example, the dry topic of malting is enlivened by an anthropomorphized grain of barley in sunglasses soaking in a pool, germinating in a sauna, then drying on a beach towel. But images can tell other tales, too: Among all the images of humans depicted in this book, few are women. (We counted; it’s roughly a 10-to-1 male-female ratio.) The many women around the world who enjoy whiskey and work in the whiskey industry might have something to say about that.