Reading the majority of books about alcoholic beverages sometimes makes me wonder if people forgot that drinking is supposed to be fun. Sure, facts, rules and regulations exist for a reason, but isn’t there a way to present those ideas that’s more enjoyable to read? Also, what happened to good old fashioned research?
Here’s a list of books out this season that put the “author” in “authority,” with a creative, entertaining approach to presenting their findings. Also, nowhere in any of these tomes will you read a sentence that starts with, “according to legend…” or “Jerry Thomas was rumored to have…” These books take a subject matter and own it.
Made in Brooklyn: An Essential Guide to the Borough’s Artisanal Food & Drink Makers by Susanne König and Melissa Schreiber Vaughn
On the heels of last year’s successful Brooklyn Spirits, comes a companion piece from indie publisher Powerhouse Books. This one focuses on both food and drinks from “New York’s hippest borough,” with two-page features on the people behind the homemade treats. It’s helpfully indexed by neighborhood, making it possible for readers to plan
courtesy Powerhouse Books
their own tour of delights. A few of the breakout stars from Brooklyn Spirits make appearances (always nice to see Jackie Summers at Jack From Brooklyn!), however this book is a noteworthy expansion that takes us onsite to breweries such as Other Half in Carroll Gardens, Bianca Miraglia’s kitchen exploding with seasonal forages at Uncouth Vermouth in Red Hook and venues like boozy bakers Butter & Scotch in Crown Heights among many others. However, your bubbe would insist on more than alcohol for nourishment, and Made in Brooklyn transports you from Dough donuts in Clinton Hill to Sahadi’s headquarters in Sunset Park to Ba-Tampte pickles in Canarsie, with stops for local soda, chocolate syrup and other treats in between, no need to wait for the G train. Although, be warned – it lives up to the inevitable kale jokes. Reason it’s a page turner: You can practically taste everything on the page thanks to the gorgeous photography by Heather Weston. Reason to shut the nightlight: I said “practically.” This book will make you hungry!
Another one of our professors wrote a book! Pardon, the shameless self promotion, but we couldn’t be more proud. It’s a compilation of essays and musings from Bar Belle, Haven’s own nightlife blog. In case you missed the posts online, it’s all in this handy book, and not only is it super entertaining, the writing is smart and insightful. Based in Louisville, she has access to some terrific subject matter, from adventures in the heart of bourbon country (including a fantastic interview with The Whiskey Prof [no relation] himself, Bernie Lubbers) and visits to local bars, restaurants and breweries, as well as general enlightenment about the subject of booze. Reason it’s a page turner: Havens’ own drunk texts of the week are sprinkled between essays. Warning: don’t read in public unless you don’t mind people staring at you as you break into uncontrollable laughter. Also, her quest to obtain the key to the city of Louisville is pure gold. Reason to shut the nightlight: Actually, keep it on. You’ll want to mix up a cocktail accompaniment.
Hemingway, Toby Bruce and unknown woman at the Floridita in Havana, circa 1946, photo courtesy Betty and Toby Bruce Collection
I’ll try to explain this book in simple Ernest Hemingway terms – here are all the drinks he was known to drink (or in some cases, famously rumored to have favored) in the context of his life and works and these are drinks worth knowing. Whether or not you’re a Hemingway fan, it’s a must for any drinks enthusiast, as not only do they provide their own perspective of a notoriously complicated literary figure who lived in notoriously complicated times, each drink is painstakingly researched, with recipes and other contexts provided. New to this edition are six additional ones associated with Hemingway which Greene became aware of after the first publication – the Bellini, the Bronx, the Capri, the Mint Julep, the Ideal, and Gin with Lemon and Wild Strawberries. Also new is a section on the legacy of these drinks with new Hemingway-inspired cocktail recipes from some of the world’s most famous figures on the scene, including Dale Degroff, Philip Duff, Charlotte Voisey, Ted Haigh, Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, Simon Ford and many others. Page turner because: Even if you’re not a fan of his writing, there’s no denying the man led a fascinating life full of scandals and adventures, and had surprisingly versatile tastes way beyond the daiquiris. The book ties all this together so exquisitely with fun visual references to boot. Reason to shut the nightlight: Precious few could ever hope to live a life as stylish and exciting as Hem’s and what a shame his own demons drove him to end it. That’s downright sobering.
Books on whisky tend to follow a certain paradigm – explain what whisky is, break it down into categories and regions, provide examples, explain the best way to taste them, rinse and repeat. While some of these are nonetheless exceptionally helpful references, Rev. Thoma’s book is a refreshing whisky companion. The whiskies are organized by region, but the conventions stop right there. Instead of tasting notes, each whisky is its own essay, either relating an emotional response to the flavors, a memory associated with tasting it, a completely random but entertaining short fiction story and other personal insights. Here Rev. Thoma reminds us that above all, sipping whisky is in itself is a form and entertainment. Reason it’s a page turner: Although Rev. Thoma is a man of faith, the book feels spiritual in the whisky sense of the word and hardly in the religious sense. Even if you know a particular whisky, reading this book makes you want to get to know it all over again. Reason to shut the nightlight: Could use a bit more variety in styles and brands of the whisky.
This fun and unique approach to the history of drinks shakes and stirs the old with the new. Even if cocktails such as the Negroni or the Pisco Sour weren’t necessarily invented in San Francisco, it’s in that city they began to live out their epilogues in American culture. What better place to sip a Scorpion Bowl than the Tonga Room in the Fairmount Hotel? Or an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café? Or a Bloody Mary at Original Joe’s in North Beach? McDonnell gives readers a tour of the drinking culture of the city as well as providing recipes for several new concoctions that are sure to become modern classics. Reason it’s a page turner: You’ll discover, or rediscover, why so many hearts get left in San Francisco. Reason to shut the nightlight: the text is TINY. It can be physically challenging to read more than a few pages at a stretch.
I have no idea how I would have passed wine school if it hadn’t been for the 1st edition of this book. I owe MacNeil a lot when it comes to my life and career in the drinks industry. One of the most exciting things about the world of wine is that it’s constantly evolving, even in the most classic of old world regions. That’s why it was necessary to provide an update. Hundreds of new regions and regulations have emerged since the first publication in 2001, not to mention shifts in trends and tastes. Why does Champagne have bubbles? What are the classifications and First Growths of Bordeaux and what does that mean and why should anyone care? Is there a trick to pairing wine with food? Does glassware matter? Of each wine region, what are some tried and true go-tos to taste? All these questions and thousands more are answered. Reason it’s a page turner: It really is huge, thorough and comprehensive with even a whole section on Asia, but also thoughtfully laid out and organized in a friendly, approachable way. Reason to shut the nightlight: 1000 pages. But you never know when you might need one of them.
Amanda Schuster is the Senior Editor in Chief of Alcohol Professor. Certified sommelier, former retail spirits and wine buyer - she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." Please don't ever offer her a Pickleback. Complete bio here.