The best cocktail books from a bourbon/whiskey expert

Susan Reigler Author Of Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon?: Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties
By Susan Reigler

The Books I Picked & Why

Bourbon is My Comfort Food: The Bourbon Women Guide to Fantastic Cocktails at Home

By Heather Wibbels

Book cover of Bourbon is My Comfort Food: The Bourbon Women Guide to Fantastic Cocktails at Home

Why this book?

When I want answers to my cocktail questions, I turn to Heather Wibbels, aka The Cocktail Contessa. What exactly is a “dash,” the least precise of ingredient measurements? Wibbels has worked out that eight drops equal a dash. No more over-bittered Manhattans! Her passion for cocktail making started when she joined the Bourbon Women Association, a group promoting the culture and enjoyment of American whiskey. After winning BW’s Not-Your-Pink-Drink cocktail contest three years in a row and being made the contest’s head judge, she was obviously the perfect person to write this cocktail manual and compilation of hers and other Bourbon Women’s recipes to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary. All the classics are here as well as creative variations such as The Banana Bread Old Fashioned and Black Licorice Manhattan. 


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The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

By Sharon Tyler Herbst

Book cover of The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

Why this book?

This book sits on the easy-to-access shelf right next to my desk. With over 1,000 entries – drink recipes, definitions, bar equipment – it is a handy quick reference guide. The cocktail recipes even include an icon depicting appropriate glassware. It’s especially useful for looking up somewhat obscure ingredients. I’ll admit I didn’t know what Friesengeist was. The Herbsts give the pronunciation [FREET-zhen-gighst] and the definition, “A potent LIQUEUR from Germany. See also MINT-FLAVORED SPIRITS.” The capitalizations are cross-references. Peppered throughout the text are notable quotes, including this one from the great Julia Child, “Forget the cheap white wine; go to beef and gin!”


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The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

By Amy Stewart

Book cover of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

Why this book?

Quick, name a beverage that has not been derived from or flavored by a plant? Not surprisingly, only water and milk leap to mind. Bestselling author Stewart delves into the natural history and cultivation of scores of plant species with witty and authoritative accounts of how they have been used in coffee, tea, all manner of spirits, wine, and beer. Cocktail recipes are included throughout as well as invaluable cultural context. I loved the bit about sorghum-based baijiu which figured in Nixon’s famous China trip. – “Alexander Haig had sampled the beverage during an advance visit and cabled…’Under no repeat no circumstances should the President actually drink from his glass in response to the banquet toasts.’” 


Nixon drank it anyway. Impressive since Dan Rather said it tasted “like liquid razor blades.” 


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Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar

By David Wondrich

Book cover of Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar

Why this book?

For cocktail lovers who want to know the stories behind their drinks, this is the book to have. Imbibe! is deeply researched, elegantly written, and delves into such historically murky territory as the origin of the word “cocktail” itself. Wondrich also provides compelling evidence for an accurate accounting of the first Manhattan cocktail and no, it had nothing to do with Winston Churchill’s mother, Jenny Jerome. Historic, long-forgotten ingredients are described, as well as the contemporary ones. Uses for each in early and current cocktails are laid out with scores of recipes. The contributions of legendary bartender Jerry Thomas (1830-1885) are enumerated over the first two chapters with an eye on historic context. Winner of a James Beard Award, it’s an essential reference for serious cocktail enthusiasts. 


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The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic

By Barnaby Conrad III

Book cover of The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic

Why this book?

While most of my professional drinking involves bourbon, my favorite change-of-pace cocktail is the martini. Lavishly illustrated, the book caught my eye when it was first published more than a quarter-century ago. Also, I had to own a book whose author had the splendidly Wodehousian name, Barnaby Conrad, III. Herein you’ll find photos and quotations of famous martini drinkers, both real and fictional, from Franklin Roosevelt and Dorothy Parker to James Bond and Nick and Nora Charles. Alas, it was published too soon to cite the wonderful scene in the film “Carol” when Cate Blanchett orders “a dry martini with an olive” at lunch. An illustration of two 1930s screen beauties pouring martinis from an Art Deco shaker inspired me to track down an identical specimen at an antiques mall. 


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