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

Who am I?

I’m a spirits writer, educator, and judge specializing in bourbon and other American whiskeys based in Louisville, Kentucky. I have authored or co-authored six books on bourbon (including two bourbon cocktail books) and among the publications for which I am a regular contributor are Bourbon+ (where I focus on the biology and chemistry of whiskey making) and American Whiskey Magazine, for which I write whiskey tasting notes and ratings. I am also the past president of The Bourbon Women Association. When I am not writing or conducting private, customized bourbon tastings, I present seminars at bourbon festivals and other bourbon events around the United States.  

I wrote...

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

By Peggy Noe Stevens, Susan Reigler,

Book cover of Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon?: Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties

What is my book about?

Every time my co-author, Peggy Noe Stevens (who, by the way, was the first female master bourbon taster) and I have conducted bourbon tastings, often with cocktails and food pairings, we have been asked by participants, “How do we do this at home?” Our answer was this book.

It’s a guide to bourbon-centric entertaining, from setting up your bar to recipes for bourbon-friendly dishes, and cocktails (both individual and batched). For anyone wanting to take a deep dive into tasting, we devote two chapters about decerning flavors in bourbons and pairing bourbon with foods. To welcome guests with true Kentucky hospitality, we have chapters on hosting a Kentucky Derby Party and on how historic distilleries entertain. Both natives of the Bluegrass State, we even include some family recipes. You will want to marinate your beef tenderloin in bourbon and pop popcorn in bacon fat.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Heather Wibbels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bourbon is My Comfort Food as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bourbon Is My Comfort Food reveals the delicious beauty of bourbon in cocktails and the joy of creating them. Whether readers are new to bourbon or already steeped in its history and lifestyle, they will gain the knowledge to make great bourbon cocktails, share them with friends and family, and expand their whiskey horizons-because the only thing better than a glass of bourbon or a bourbon cocktail is sharing it with a friend. As the saying goes, "There are no strangers with a glass of bourbon in your hand."

From building your home bar to basics on cocktail technique, Heather…

The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

By Sharon Tyler Herbst,

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

Why did I love 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!”

By Sharon Tyler Herbst,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What's a Dirty Martini? How do you pronounce Cuarenta Y Tres? Which glass do you use for a Stinger? How did the Margarita get its name?

Answers to these questions and thousands more can be found in The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide, a one-stop, user-friendly cocktail guide featuring more than 1,000 drink recipes and 600 definitions for cocktail-related terms.

The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide offers a unique blend of features, including:

Definitions of over 600 cocktail- and drink-related terms, including liqueurs, types of drinks, cocktail jargon, and the etymology of drinks like the Martini and the Fuzzy Navel, all organized…

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

Why did I love 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.” 

By Amy Stewart,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Drunken Botanist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This quirky guide explains the chemistry and botanical history of over 150 plants, trees, flowers and fruits, showing how they form the bases of our favourite cocktails. Amy Stewart offers gardeners growing tips and provides cocktail enthusiasts with 50 drink recipes, as well as a rounded knowledge of the processes and plants which go into popular concoctions.

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 did I love 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. 

By David Wondrich,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Imbibe! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The newly updated edition of David Wondrich’s definitive guide to classic American cocktails.

Cocktail writer and historian David Wondrich presents the colorful, little-known history of classic American drinks--and the ultimate mixologist's guide--in this engaging homage to Jerry Thomas, father of the American bar.

Wondrich reveals never-before-published details and stories about this larger-than-life nineteenth-century figure, along with definitive recipes for more than 100 punches, cocktails, sours, fizzes, toddies, slings, and other essential drinks, along with detailed historical and mixological notes.
The first edition, published in 2007, won a James Beard Award. Now updated with newly discovered recipes and historical information, this…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Barnaby Conrad III,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Martini as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A chilled, crystal glass; the purest gin; a touch of dry vermouth--vigorously shaken, not stirred--and a plump, green olive. The martini was and still is more than just a cocktail. Originally mixed in the nineteenth century, it became an American icon in the twentieth, and the favorite drink of such luminaries as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway. Bernard De Voto called the martini "the supreme American gift to world culture," while H. L. Mencken declared it "the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet."

The first book of its kind to explore the drink's…

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