The best books about drinking culture

6 authors have picked their favorite books about drinking culture and why they recommend each book.

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Tastes of Paradise

By Wolfgang Schivelbusch,

Book cover of Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants

A sensual cultural history mixed with economic history, specifically the rise of capitalism, Schivelbusch launches an interesting argument—that one particular substance, or taste, has often defined the zeitgeist of whole nations for definitive periods. This book is wide-ranging and general in its treatment of alcohol, as well as several other drinks and spices. There are excellent imaginative connections made, and the book invites thinkers to think deeply and broadly about the meaning of intoxicants in history and in their own lives.


Who am I?

I’m a professor at Northland College (WI) and an American environmental historian with specialties in wine, food, and horticulture. I mostly write on alcohol, garden history, botany, and orchids. The history of alcohol is wild, fraught, and charged with power—I’ll never tire of learning about it.


I wrote...

Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

By Erica Hannickel,

Book cover of Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

What is my book about?

The lush, sun-drenched vineyards of California evoke a romantic, agrarian image of winemaking, though in reality, the industry reflects American agribusiness at its most successful. Nonetheless, this fantasy is deeply rooted in the history of grape cultivation in America. Empire of Vines traces the development of wine culture as grape growing expanded from New York to the Midwest before gaining ascendancy in California--a progression that illustrates viticulture's centrality to the nineteenth-century American projects of national expansion and the formation of a national culture.

Eating, Drinking, and Visiting in the South

By Joe Gray Taylor,

Book cover of Eating, Drinking, and Visiting in the South: An Informal History

In 1982 “culinary studies” had yet to be invented, but that year Joe Gray Taylor, known primarily as a historian of Louisiana, published this spritely history, looking at what Southern people have eaten, from the meager diet of aboriginal Indians to instant grits and canned biscuits, with all the good and bad stuff in between, taking appropriate note of how diet has reflected race and class differences. Taylor packed his book with memorable detail: for instance, I will not soon forget that ground okra seeds served for coffee in the blockaded Confederacy. When the book was reprinted in 2008, John Egerton wrote a fine introduction about its genesis and subsequent developments in Southern food studies. 


Who am I?

I’ve written a couple of books about other subjects, but most of my professional life has been devoted to writing, speaking, and teaching about the South. I’ve been doing it ever since I went north to college and graduate school in the 1960s. My early books and articles were written as a sociologist, mostly for other sociologists, but in the 1970s I started writing what I learned to call “familiar essays” for a more general readership, and lately I’ve been writing about Southern foodways—three books about barbecue (so far), one of them a cookbook. I’ve also written several country songs (only one of them recorded).


I wrote...

Mixing It Up: A South-Watcher's Miscellany

By John Shelton Reed,

Book cover of Mixing It Up: A South-Watcher's Miscellany

What is my book about?

Here’s what my publisher says: Mixing It Up is a medley of writings that examine how ideas of the South, and what it means to be Southern, have changed over the last century. Through essays, op-eds, speeches, statistical reports, elegies, panegyrics, feuilletons, rants, and more, Reed’s penetrating observations, wry humor, and expansive knowledge help him to examine the South’s past, survey its present, and venture a few modest predictions about its future. Touching on an array of topics from the region’s speech, manners, and food, to politics, religion, and race relations, Reed also assesses the work of other pundits, scholars, and South-watchers.

Drink

By Iain Gately,

Book cover of Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol

People have been making and drinking alcoholic beverages for as long as the technology has been around that allows them to do so – some 8,000 years, as it turns out. In this glorious gallop through the long and varied history – or, rather, multifarious histories – of beer, wine, and spirits around the world, packed with odd facts that will make you a champ at any booze trivia quiz, Iain Gately entertainingly shows how tightly intertwined the various forms of alcoholic beverages have been over the centuries with the societies that produce them, and how our western love/hate relationship with the demon alcohol has evolved.


Who are we?

Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle are both curators at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  Rob is a molecular systematist who has done research on everything from fruit fly diversity to human language, and Ian is a specialist in the study of human evolution and primates. They have collaborated on several exhibition projects, including the American Museum’s Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, and have written several books together, including the trilogy we are featuring here.


I wrote...

A Natural History of Wine

By Ian Tattersall, Rob DeSalle, Patricia J. Wynne (illustrator)

Book cover of A Natural History of Wine

What is my book about?

A Natural History of Wine (and its companion volumes A Natural History of Beer and the forthcoming Distilled: A Natural History of Spirits) all involve the science behind the alcoholic beverages we enjoy. Having long relied on wine for inspiration while writing books on subjects as diverse as race and the origin of humans, we ultimately realized that this magical drink brings together many different branches of science, from anthropology to zoology via areas as disparate as astrophysics, neurobiology, systematics, and ecology.

And as forbidding as those subjects may sound, we realized that all are much more fun and accessible when seen through the lens of wine. We also discovered just how much understanding a drink’s history, and how it found its way to that glass in your hand, enhances one’s enjoyment of it.

Everyday Drinking

By Kingsley Amis,

Book cover of Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis

The first book I read by British novelist Kingsley Amis was Lucky Jim, one of the greatest satires on academic life ever written (I do not, however, recommend reading it when you are applying for a teaching position as I foolishly did, since it will mess, mess, mess with your head). Amis enjoyed the drink far more than he should have, earning him the reputation, as he put it, “of being one of the great drinkers, if not one of the great drunks, of our time.” His extensive familiarity with the bottom of a glass bore at least one good fruit. Everyday Drinking is a painfully witty, laugh-out-loud collection of essays and even quizzes on different kinds of alcohol from around the world. 


Who am I?

One of my fondest childhood memories is the holiday parties that my parents threw. Lying in bed I could hear roars of laughter crash the silence and gently ebb as the grownups shared stories and made merry. Later in life, I came to realize how different that kind of drinking is from the frat-boy binging of college and the anxious bracers at singles’ bars. As an adult, I became a Catholic theologian, got married, and had a family of my own. My wife Alexandra and I have relished an evening cocktail together in order to unwind and catch up on each other’s day (Alexandra has homeschooled all six of our children, which is itself a compelling reason to drink daily).


I wrote...

Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour

By Michael P. Foley,

Book cover of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour

What is my book about?

Drinking with the Saints pairs beer, wine, and cocktail suggestions with the feast days of the Church year: you look up a date, read a brief sketch of the saint whose feast is being celebrated that day, and make a drink in his or her honor. The book contains over 350 cocktail recipes (38 of them original), and it even includes drinks for Lent. Besides all the tasty beverage ideas, Drinking with the Saints encourages a culture of Christian merriment and festivity. Christianity and alcohol have had a long and illustrious history together, from Chartreuse (made by Carthusian monks) to Trappist beer to Franciscan missionaries literally planting the seeds of the California wine industry.


Imbibe!

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

The sun was shining on the cocktail world the day that David Wondrich — a former English professor with a PhD in comparative literature — decided to step away from his existing vocation and turn his attention on drinks. He’s been hugely influential in the rise of the modern cocktail scene and is considered the foremost authority on the history of mixed drinks, shedding light on the origins of well-known, as well as esoteric libations. Imbibe is a fascinating read. Wondrich’s writing style is extremely engaging, you’ll fly through the book and still be left wanting more.


Who am I?

Cas Oh is a drinks industry veteran and author of the award-winning book CO Specs: Recipes & Histories of Classic CocktailsCO Specs is the product of Cas Oh’s 20+ years behind the bar, mixing drinks, managing teams, and training staff in such notable venues as The Groucho Club and the Hospital Club. Most recently Oh was running the bars at the iconic Ivy Club in London's West End, where he held the tiller for a decade before leaving to finalise the manuscript for CO Specs. Known for his obsessive approach to research and training, his book is the 'one-stop shop' he always wished he'd had.


I wrote...

CO Specs: Recipes & Histories of Classic Cocktails

By Cas Oh,

Book cover of CO Specs: Recipes & Histories of Classic Cocktails

What is my book about?

With tens of thousands of cocktails in existence, how many of those could be considered classic, essential, or even tasty? CO Specs is an A to Z guide to the world’s most popular classic cocktails and distills down to the 200 true classics everyone should know. 

For Bartenders, it's a thorough field manual of all the classics you should know. A one-stop shop. The book Cas wishes he'd had (and spent far too long creating). For the Home Enthusiast - whether you're shaking up a few cocktails after a long day, or mixing something to impress your dinner guests, you'll find all of your favourite cocktails (as well as many gems yet undiscovered) among the CO Specs.

Drinking Distilled

By Jeffrey Morgenthaler,

Book cover of Drinking Distilled: A User's Manual

When recommending books on drinking and drinking properly, not necessarily making drinks properly, there are few recent releases that cover this ground. Jeffrey’s fun primer on the basics of drinking, its culture, and traditions make this a great first floor requirement in the skyscraper of imbibing. I would add that this would be a perfect gift for novice enthusiasts as it will help dodge plenty of missteps for sure.


Who am I?

I was raised in a ‘hospitality forward’ household to say the least. My parents always had family and friends over the house eating and drinking and although no one was in the food and beverage industry, most of the folks all had something to say about food and beverage. It was a fundamental part of the conversation. It carried over to me and became something that I focused on even before I was ever in the service industry. With experience, I became more knowledgeable, and my tastes became wider and a bit more refined, but the seeds were planted long ago.


I wrote...

The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

By Frank Caiafa,

Book cover of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

What is my book about?

Frank Caiafa—bar manager of the legendary Peacock Alley bar in the Waldorf Astoria—stirs in recipes, history, and how-to while serving up a heady mix of the world's greatest cocktails. Learn to easily prepare pre-Prohibition classics such as the original Manhattan, or daiquiris just as Hemingway preferred them. Caiafa also introduces his own award-winning creations, including the Cole Porter, an enhanced whiskey sour named for the famous Waldorf resident.

Each recipe features tips and variations along with notes on the drink's history, so you can master the basics, then get adventurous--and impress fellow drinkers with fascinating cocktail trivia. The book also provides advice on setting up your home bar and scaling up your favorite recipe for a party.


Soju

By Hyunhee Park,

Book cover of Soju: A Global History

A book about Korean liquor might seem out of place on this list, but hear me out. Park’s book tells the story of soju from an unusual perspective, explaining Korean distilled spirits’ origins and development in terms of the historical circumstances that created them. It explores Korea’s place in the ancient world to explain when the country first encountered and widely adopted distilled spirits, a task that necessitates a sustained gaze on China. Accordingly, Soju provides readers with the most detailed examination of ancient Chinese liquor since H.T. Huang’s, and provides several noteworthy updates and improvements on his work.

Who am I?

Derek Sandhaus is an award-winning American author of several books on Chinese history and culture. He worked as an editor, publisher, and tour guide in Shanghai, then moved to Chengdu and turned to drink. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu with China’s oldest distillery, and now spends most of his time talking about Chinese alcohol to anyone who will listen. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and a very well-traveled dog.


I wrote...

Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

By Derek Sandhaus,

Book cover of Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

What is my book about?

China is one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of liquor, with alcohol infusing all aspects of its culture, from religion and literature to business and warfare. Yet to the outside world, China’s most famous spirit, baijiu, remains a mystery. This is about to change, as baijiu is now being served in cocktail bars beyond its borders.

Drunk in China follows Derek Sandhaus’s journey of discovery into the world’s oldest drinking culture. He travels throughout the country and around the globe to meet with distillers, brewers, snake-oil salesmen, archaeologists, and ordinary drinkers. He examines the many ways in which alcohol has shaped Chinese society and its rituals. Along the way, he uncovers a tradition spanning more than nine thousand years and explores how recent economic and political developments have conspired to push Chinese alcohol beyond the nation’s borders for the first time. As Chinese society becomes increasingly international, its drinking culture must also adapt to the times. Can the West also adapt and clink glasses with China? 

The Banished Immortal

By Ha Jin,

Book cover of The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po)

Li Bai is the best known of China’s “Eight Immortals of the Wine Glass,” a group of Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) poets famous for their drinking prowess. Using historical records, Ha Jin’s biography is a portrait of a frustrated half-Chinese outcast, brilliant but arrogant, who struggles to find a place in a world where talent alone is not enough. Brought down to earth, Li the man is less inspiring than the legend but far more sympathetic.

Who am I?

Derek Sandhaus is an award-winning American author of several books on Chinese history and culture. He worked as an editor, publisher, and tour guide in Shanghai, then moved to Chengdu and turned to drink. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu with China’s oldest distillery, and now spends most of his time talking about Chinese alcohol to anyone who will listen. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and a very well-traveled dog.


I wrote...

Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

By Derek Sandhaus,

Book cover of Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

What is my book about?

China is one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of liquor, with alcohol infusing all aspects of its culture, from religion and literature to business and warfare. Yet to the outside world, China’s most famous spirit, baijiu, remains a mystery. This is about to change, as baijiu is now being served in cocktail bars beyond its borders.

Drunk in China follows Derek Sandhaus’s journey of discovery into the world’s oldest drinking culture. He travels throughout the country and around the globe to meet with distillers, brewers, snake-oil salesmen, archaeologists, and ordinary drinkers. He examines the many ways in which alcohol has shaped Chinese society and its rituals. Along the way, he uncovers a tradition spanning more than nine thousand years and explores how recent economic and political developments have conspired to push Chinese alcohol beyond the nation’s borders for the first time. As Chinese society becomes increasingly international, its drinking culture must also adapt to the times. Can the West also adapt and clink glasses with China? 

Science and Civilisation in China

By H.T. Huang,

Book cover of Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 5, Fermentations and Food Science

During the height of the Second World War, British biochemist Joseph Needham traveled across China with his assistant H.T. Huang to study Chinese scientific development, braving breakthroughs, and Japanese incursion along the way. Needham spent the next half-century compiling his findings into the Science and Civilization in China series, which rewrote our understanding of China’s place in world history. The story of its creation, and the colorful characters behind it, is memorably told in Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China, a book that sadly had little to tell us about Chinese drinks. This volume, however, written by Huang, is the urtext for understanding the development of Chinese alcoholic beverages.


Who am I?

Derek Sandhaus is an award-winning American author of several books on Chinese history and culture. He worked as an editor, publisher, and tour guide in Shanghai, then moved to Chengdu and turned to drink. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu with China’s oldest distillery, and now spends most of his time talking about Chinese alcohol to anyone who will listen. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and a very well-traveled dog.


I wrote...

Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

By Derek Sandhaus,

Book cover of Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

What is my book about?

China is one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of liquor, with alcohol infusing all aspects of its culture, from religion and literature to business and warfare. Yet to the outside world, China’s most famous spirit, baijiu, remains a mystery. This is about to change, as baijiu is now being served in cocktail bars beyond its borders.

Drunk in China follows Derek Sandhaus’s journey of discovery into the world’s oldest drinking culture. He travels throughout the country and around the globe to meet with distillers, brewers, snake-oil salesmen, archaeologists, and ordinary drinkers. He examines the many ways in which alcohol has shaped Chinese society and its rituals. Along the way, he uncovers a tradition spanning more than nine thousand years and explores how recent economic and political developments have conspired to push Chinese alcohol beyond the nation’s borders for the first time. As Chinese society becomes increasingly international, its drinking culture must also adapt to the times. Can the West also adapt and clink glasses with China? 

Wine Drinking Culture in France

By Marion Demossier,

Book cover of Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion?

At some basic level, the drinking culture in eighteenth-century taverns has survived in Parisian wine bars and cafés today. Yet, as a social anthropologist, Demossier shows us that wine-drinking culture has changed into something different today. Since 1980 the number of French people who drank wine every day has plummeted from over 50 percent to barely 20 percent. Yet at the same time, wine has taken on a larger cultural role in French identity as a nation even for those who drink wine less regularly. All the TV programs, books, wine blogs, wine tourism, and consumers flocking to wineries for a degustation at the source demonstrate that drinking wine is now as much a part of what it means to be French as speaking French.

Who am I?

I knew nothing about wine and drank it only rarely until I went to Paris as a graduate student in the 1970s. Even then, I couldn’t afford more than basic plonk. It was not until I started doing research in Dijon every summer in the 1980s, making great friends in the process, eating and drinking at their dining tables, and visiting their favorite vignerons with them for dégustations, that I began to appreciate wine, not just as a fantastic beverage, but as a social and cultural creator. And as a historian, I appreciate that drinking wine that comes from vineyards planted in the Middle Ages connects us with our ancestors in the past.


I wrote...

The Politics of Wine in Early Modern France: Religion and Popular Culture in Burgundy, 1477-1630

By Mack P. Holt,

Book cover of The Politics of Wine in Early Modern France: Religion and Popular Culture in Burgundy, 1477-1630

What is my book about?

This book explores the interaction of politics, religion, and material culture in the city of Dijon and the wine region in Burgundy that surrounded it. While so many studies of the sixteenth-century have depicted the ruling elites and the popular classes they governed as being diametrically opposed in constant social and cultural conflict, this book examines the city of Dijon, where the mayors and city councilors who governed the city came to rely on the support of the city’s vineyard workers—the vignerons, who made up roughly 20 percent of the population—to confront and repel the Protestant Reformation when it arrived in the city, as well as to help them fight back against the encroaching absolute monarchy of Louis XIII.

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