There is a constant contest happening in my home between the number of booze bottles I have on my shelves and the number of booze books. There was a time when the bottles had the upper hand, but for the last few years, the books have been solidly in control. Part of the bottles’ problem is that they’re pretty much a disposable commodity. The contents get drunk and the bottles gets tossed, unceremoniously, into the recycling bin. All the while, the books look on, smugly assured that their place is safe and secure.
Oft times, I’ve enjoyed collecting books about whisky and other assorted boozes more than I’ve enjoyed collecting the booze itself. I’m always interested in the new ones coming out, and absolutely love discovering and tracking down older, more obscure tomes. I’ve long wanted to add a page to the blog that highlights some of my favorites, so here is an admittedly lengthy start to what will likely be an ever-evolving list. Most of these books are permanent residents of my shelves, a few of them are frequent visitors from their home in the wonderful Hennepin County library System. This is not a definitive list by any means, but I think there are some essential reads on here. I think there are some inessential but no less worthy reads on here, too.
I also hope you’ll take a moment and share your favorites as well…
As always, many of the newer titles here are available on Amazon, but they are also available from your local independent bookseller. If you can, please consider buying locally.
(Listed alphabetically, not in any sort of ranked order…)
- Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, by Michael Jackson. One of the first whisky books I ever looked at. I still get a thrill paging through any of these guides whether the whiskies are available or not.
- The Making of Scotch Whisky: A History of the Scotch Whiskey Distilling Industry (1981/revised 2002), by Michael Moss & John Hume. A fascinating, hyper-detailed look at how the Scotch whisky industry has evolved since its beginnings up until 1981…or 2002 if you want to get the revised version.
- Malt Whisky Yearbook 2018 (2018), by Ingvar Ronde. A near perfect yearly guide to keeping up with all things malt whisky. While much of it carries over year to year, the info is always updated and current, and there’s always a lot of fresh content to make every year worth having.
- Peat Smoke and Spirit: A portrait of Islay and its Whisky (2004), by Andrew Jefford. If, like me, you’ve never been to Islay, this beautiful book will make you want to go. If, unlike me, you’ve been to Islay, this beautiful book will make you want to go back.
- The Science and Commerce of Whisky (2013), by Ian Buxton and Paul S Hughes. Pretty much an interesting textbook, this one is coffee table book for whisky geeks who are far too interested in fermentation times and entry proof. A detailed, almost academic look at the production, creation, and marketing of whiskey.
- Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland, 4th Edition (2015), Brian Townsend. If you feel like there’s a hole in your heart, or that part of your soul is missing because you never managed to make it those distilleries that are no more, then this is a book for you.
- Scotch Whisky (1951), by Marshall Robb. A small, endearing older book that includes detailed production information, whisky-centric poems and anecdotes, interesting photos and wood engravings, and even a few cocktail recipes.
- Scotch: the Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story, Fourth Edition (1970), by Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. The author of this book is a fascinating character in his own right, some have even suggested he was an inspiration for James Bond. His book is both a personal ode to Scotch, and a keen-eyed look at the its history, including the effects of WWI and Prohibition, and it’s present…at least how its present was back in the past.
- Still Life with Bottle: Whisky According to Ralph Steadman (1994), by Ralph Steadman. (pic) One of the more esoteric whisky books out there, certainly the most unusual book on this list. Filled with Steadman’s inimitable illustrations, it’s a slightly surreal, gonzo-esque trip through Scotland’s whisky world. It’s at times reverential and at times irreverent. Perhaps not the most accurate of whisky books, it’s a still wild romp to read.
- Whisky (1930), by Aeneas MacDonald. A charming, quaintly soaring little book that waxes poetic about Scotch, and occasionally educates the consumer about the vagaries of the industry. Of all the old books on this list, this one manages to still be relevant and in a few instances, oddly prophetic.
- Whisky: the Definitive World Guide (1987/2017), by Michael Jackson. Yes, there were plenty of great whisky books that came before, but this one remains a touchstone. If there’s such a thing as modern whisky writing, it begins here.
- The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom (1887), by Alfred Barnard. The patriarch of all whisky books. and a must-have for any serious whisky library. Obviously, this one is not full of the most updated info, but it remains a beautiful, very enjoyable examination of what the UK whisky world used to look like over 130 years ago.
- The Whiskies of Scotland (1967), by R.J.S. McDowall. Another older look that provides a fascinating snapshot of what the world of Scotch whisky looked like half a century ago.
- Whisky: Technology, Production and Marketing – 2nd Edition (2014), by Inge Russell and Graham Stewart. This one is darn near a textbook, but oh, what a wonderful textbook. All the production details you could hope for, plus info on what it takes to bring a whisky from the distillery to the retail shelf.
- American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye (2013), by Clay Risen. Along with Minnick’s Bourbon Curious, this is a good guidebook to American whiskey. Mostly quick hit history bits, distillery info, and tasting notes.
- The Art of American Whiskey (2015), by Noah Rothbaum. A concise look at the history of American whiskey from the unlikely, yet fascinating standpoint of labels and brands.
- The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys (1995), Gaz Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan. Part coffee table book, part history book, part guide book, part recipe book, for me this book is almost to American whiskey what Michael Jackson’s was world whisky. Essential.
- Bourbon Curious (2015), by Fred Minnick. Along with Risen’s American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye, this is a great guidebook and introduction to bourbon. A concise, no-holds-barred history section, and a well-organized tasting section make this a great place to start if you want to get into bourbon.
- Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, by Reid Mitenbuler. Along with Minnick’s Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, and Veach’s Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage and this makes up a trio of essential bourbon history books.
- Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey (2016), by Fred Minnick. Along with Veach’s Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage and Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, this makes up a trio of essential bourbon history books.
- Bourbon Straight (2004) and Bourbon Strange (2014), By Chuck Cowdery. Both books are mostly collections of insightful and well-researched essays about the history of bourbon.
- Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking (1971), by Henry Crowgey. Another view of Bourbon’s history. Though older, and therefore slightly out of date, it adds an interesting perspective to the history being written about today.
- Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage (2103), by Michael Veach. Along with Minnick’s Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, and Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, this makes up a trio of essential bourbon history books.
- Minnesota 13: Wet, Wild Prohibition Days (2007), by Elaine Davis. A relatively unknown and provincial book that provides an excellent look at the effects prohibition had on one particular Minnesota county.
OTHER WHISK(E)Y BOOKS WITH A REGIONAL FOCUS – JAPANESE, CANADIAN, IRISH, ETC.
- Canadian Whisky, the Portable Expert (2012), by Davin de Kergommeaux. There are too few books on Canadian whisky. De Kergommeaux’s detailed, concise little book is the perfect primer and guide to this under-praised, complicated, and storied spirit.
- A Glass Apart: Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey (2015), by Fionnán O’Connor. A beautiful coffee table book that covers the soul of Irish whiskey, the single/pure pot still style. An in-depth look at the distilleries, the bottles, and especially the history of this distinct whiskey.
- Japanese Whisky (2008), by Ulf Buxrud. This was one of the only books on Japanese whisky when it came out, and I was glad to have it. There are many more now, what a difference 10 years makes.
- The Way of Whisky: A Journey Around Japanese Whisky (2017), by Dave Broom. A beautiful book that not only examines the whiskies and distilleries of Japan, but examines how the culture and traditions of Japan have influenced the spirit.
WHISK(E)Y IN GENERAL
- The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits (2009), by Bill Owens and Alan Dikty. Focusing on the process of distilling, this book is now a revealing snapshot of the early days of the US craft distilling movement.
- Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits (2014), by Lew Bryson. As with Heather Greene’s book, Bryson’s is an approachable, informative primer to all things whisky.
- Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life (2014), by Heather Greene. As with Lew Bryson’s, Greene’s is an informative, light-hearted intro to the world of whisky.
- Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey (2013), by Fred Minnick. A fascinating, vital, and beautiful read that tells some of the long-disregarded stories about the women who helped shape the whisk(e)y world.
- The World Atlas of Whisky (2010), by Dave Broom. In the last 8 years, a lot of nice coffee table-esque books on whisky have come out – The World’s Best Whiskies, Whiskey Opus, 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, multiple titles from DK publishing, etc. Broom’s Atlas is a cleverly organized, well-balanced cut above the others.
- The World book of Whisky (1979), Brian Murphy. A coffee table book about the world of whisky from the ’70s? Yes. The info inside provides a great glimpse into the industry 40 years ago. The book makes use of many old illustrations and has that great 70’s layout and color to its photos.
- Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender (1891/2009), by William Boothby. While not as well-known or well-regarded as The Savoy or the Jerry Thomas, I have a soft spot for this pre-prohibition cocktail book thanks to its San Francisco/West Coast origins.
- Cocktail Techniques (2010), by Kazuo Uyeda. An almost austere book on cocktails from a Japanese master. There are recipes, and there is some philosophical musing on hospitality and the role of the properly prepared drink.
- Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails (2014), by Dave Kaplan and Nick Fauchald. A beautiful coffee table book from one of the most important and best-named cocktail bars to emerge in the last 20 years.
- Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide – How to Mix Drinks or a Bon Vivant’s Companion (1862), by Jerry Thomas. Along with Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide is basically a must-have historical document.
- The Joy of Mixology – 2018 Revised (2018), by Gaz Regan. Originally coming out in 2003, this is a modern classic that helped lead the way for the new wave of cocktail books. Much has changed in the last 15 years, and the revised version takes that all into account.
- Meehan’s Bartending Manual (2107), by Jim Meehan. Whereas Sasha Petraske’s book is a more idiomatic ode to cocktails and how to comport oneself in the presence of cocktails, Meehan’s manual is an in-depth, straight-shooting handbook on creating a bar, creating a home bar, creating space for hospitality, and creating drinks that are sure to please.
- Regarding Cocktails (2016), by Sasha Petraske & Georgette Moger-Petraske. Yes, this book is full of excellent and incredibly accessible cocktail recipes, but it’s so much more than that. It can at times be a little pretentious, but mostly, even with a bit of pretentiousness, it’s an almost profound and poignant musing on hospitality and the joy of a good drink.
- Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), by Harry Craddock. Along with Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide, the Savoy Cocktail Book is basically a must-have historical document.
- Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas (2106), by Brad Thomas Parsons. A terrific introduction and handy guidebook to the bitter, herbal world of Amaro.
- And a Bottle of Rum, Revised and Updated: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails (2018), by Wayne Curtis. A refreshing, unique take on rum, introducing it through some fairly broad history and its place in ten iconic cocktails.
- Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas (2011), by Brad Thomas Parson. A terrific introduction and handy guidebook to the bitter, herbal world of bitters. (Does that sound familiar?)
- The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace (2016), by Tristan Stephenson. Probably the gin book I turn to most. I like this book because it’s relatively heavy on the production of gin, and the history of its producers, and relatively light on the cocktail recipes.
- Gin: the Manual (2015), by Dave Broom. Along with The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace, this is another good gin reference guide. It’s lighter on the history than Gin Palace, and more of a practical drinking guide.
- Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit (2017) by Fred Minnick. As with Bourbon Curious, Rum Curious serves as a great introduction to often bewildering world of rum.
- Rum: the Manual (2017), by Dave Broom. As with Gin: the Manual, this one is a good overview, handy reference, and practical drinking guide to rum.
- Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes (2014), by Talia Baiocchi. There are not many books on sherry out there, which makes this great book fairly indispensable. Full of history, reviews, and recipes.
- The World Guide to Beer (1977), by Michael Jackson. What Michael Jackson was to the world of whiskey…he also was to the world of beer. An essential, landmark book on the subject.
- The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes (2013), by Joshua M. Bernstein. This one is like a hardcover beer school. It’s a reference book, a tasting guide, a history tome, and more all rolled up in one.
- The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Fourth Edition: Fully Revised and Updated (2014), by Charlie Papazian. You don’t necessarily need to be a homebrewer to enjoy the detail and science contained within. This is a great, all-purpose guide to beer that will also help you make your own if you choose to accept that mission.
- The Oxford Companion to Wine (2015, 4th Edition), by Jancis Robinson. Admittedly, Wine is my not my game. My wife is the resident wine expert in our residence. That said, when I’ve needed some good wine info, and my resident wine expert is not in the residence, then more often than not, I turn to one or both of these excellent, all-around wine reference books.
- The World Atlas of Wine (2013, 7th Edition), written with Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. See above…
- The Drunken Botanist (2013), by Amy Stewart. A fascinating, far more entertaining than you’d might think look at all the plants, herbs, weeds, seeds, roots, botanicals, etc. that have been used to create to create alcoholic beverages.
- Pop Chart Lab’s A Visual Guide to Drink (2015), by Ben Gibson and Patrick Mulligan. A handy, fantastically graphical quick reference guide to the world of booze.
- Proof: The Science of Booze (2015), by Adam Rogers. This book is so much more fun than it sounds. A trip through the history of alcohol looked at through the lens of science.
- The Spice and Herb Bible (2014), by Ian Hemphill and Kate Hemphill. Works quite nicely in the kitchen, in the bar, in the garden, and as a companion to the Drunken Botanist. A vast tome filled with all sorts of knowledge.