The most recommended books about the history of alcoholic drinks

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to the history of alcoholic drinks, and here are their favorite history of alcoholic drinks books.
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Book cover of Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-Created

Ian Tattersall Author Of A Natural History of Wine

From my list on the joys of alcoholic beverages.

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.

Ian's book list on the joys of alcoholic beverages

Ian Tattersall Why did Ian love this book?

Patrick (Dr. Pat) McGovern, the Indiana Jones of ancient alcoholic beverages, takes the reader on a roller coaster ride through the nine extreme brewed beverages of history. On these journeys, McGovern is at once an archaeologist, a chemist, and a homebrewer.  His book is an amazing compilation of the mechanics of brewing both ancient and modern, and a wonderful comment on the human propensity for drinking and enjoying fermented and brewed beverages. It includes some recipes and food pairings for the ancient brews it describes. This book is a must-have for any beer aficionado, brewer, homebrewer, or even your everyday barstool cowboy.

By Patrick E. McGovern,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Patrick E. McGovern takes us on a fascinating journey through time to the dawn of brewing when our ancestors might well have made a Palaeo-Brew of fruits, honey, cereals and botanicals. Early beverage-makers must have marvelled at the process of fermentation, their amazement growing as they drank the mind-altering drinks which were to become the medicines, religious symbols and social lubricants of later cultures.

McGovern circles the globe-to China, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Scandinavia, Honduras, Peru and Mexico-interweaving archaeology and science to tell stories of making liquid time capsules. Accompanying homebrew interpretations and matching meal recipes help bring the past alive,…


Book cover of The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails

Anistatia R. Miller Author Of Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink, Book Two

From my list on folklore and fact on spirits & cocktail history.

Who am I?

I’ve been researching and writing with my co-author husband Jared Brown about spirits and mixed drinks for three decades. After writing more than three dozen books plus hundreds of articles about the history and origins of alcoholic beverages, you could say I am addicted to the topic in a big way. While we’ve travelled and tasted drinks around the world we’ve also amassed a few thousand books on the subject. It’s served as a launch point of our secondary careers as drinks consultants and master distillers for global spirits brands. I'm currently finishing my doctoral thesis on early-modern English brewing at the University of Bristol to put a feather on the cap of my long career.

Anistatia's book list on folklore and fact on spirits & cocktail history

Anistatia R. Miller Why did Anistatia love this book?

This is the very first and very major reference work to cover the subjects of spirits, mixed drinks, cocktails, and the people who created them from a global perspective, providing authoritative, enlightening, and entertaining overviews. It makes this not only a valuable source but a great recreational read for enthusiasts to scan and share with friends and family. Into pub quizzes? This book offers enough libatious fodder to create thousands of brain-teasing questions.

By Dave Wondrich, Noah Rothbaum (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anthropologists and historians have confirmed the central role alcohol has played in nearly every society since the dawn of human civilization, but it is only recently that it has been the subject of serious scholarly inquiry. The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails is the first major reference work to cover the subject from a global perspective, and provides an authoritative, enlightening, and entertaining overview of this third branch of the alcohol
family. It will stand alongside the bestselling Companions to Wine and Beer, presenting an in-depth exploration of the world of spirits and cocktails in a groundbreaking synthesis.

The…


Book cover of Alcohol: A History

Erica Hannickel Author Of Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

From my list on the history of booze.

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.

Erica's book list on the history of booze

Erica Hannickel Why did Erica love this book?

Alcohol is a highly readable, and useful, text on the cultural and material history of alcohol from ancient times through the modern-day. Phillips uses an international and comparative frame here to good effect—something not usually done in histories of alcohol. I also greatly appreciated his focus on colonial, ethnic, and racial histories around alcohol, as well as its regulation in different societies. Phillips makes a compelling argument against the idea that most earlier societies turned to alcohol because the water wasn't safe to drink (some did, but the assumption is far too widespread, he argues).

By Rod Phillips,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Whether as wine, beer, or spirits, alcohol has had a constant and often controversial role in social life. In his innovative book on the attitudes toward and consumption of alcohol, Rod Phillips surveys a 9,000-year cultural and economic history, uncovering the tensions between alcoholic drinks as healthy staples of daily diets and as objects of social, political, and religious anxiety. In the urban centers of Europe and America, where it was seen as healthier than untreated water, alcohol gained a foothold as the drink of choice, but it has been more regulated by governmental and religious authorities more than any…


Book cover of A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where, and When Humankind Has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the  Present

Deborah Toner Author Of Alcohol in the Age of Industry, Empire, and War

From Deborah's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Professor Alcohol historian Lover of all things Mexican

Deborah's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Deborah Toner Why did Deborah love this book?

This is a great one to read in tandem with The Dawn of Everything, as they cover a similarly enormous timespan but in very different ways.

The provocative suggestion that humans might have invented agriculture primarily as a means of having more regular and reliable access to booze was… unexpected! The more modern eras of history are also handled punchily, including some forceful overturning of the most enduring misconceptions about the 1920s prohibition of alcohol in the United States.

Forysth’s telling of human history through our myriad, complicated ways of getting drunk and all the social and legal rules about how and how not to get drunk is also hilarious. This is greatly enhanced by the audiobook narration of Richard Hughes.

By Mark Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Short History of Drunkenness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE PERFECT GIFT FOR ANYONE WHO ENJOYS A TIPPLE . . . OR TWO . . . OR TEN!

Almost every culture on earth has drink, and where there's drink there's drunkenness. But in every age and in every place drunkenness is a little bit different. Tracing humankind's love affair with booze from our primate ancestors through to Prohibition, it answers every possible question:

What did people drink? How much? Who did the drinking? Of the many possible reasons, why?

On the way, learn about the Neolithic Shamans, who drank to communicate with the spirit world (no pun intended), marvel…


Book cover of Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours

Ian Tattersall Author Of A Natural History of Wine

From my list on the joys of alcoholic beverages.

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.

Ian's book list on the joys of alcoholic beverages

Ian Tattersall Why did Ian love this book?

This enormous volume is not for the faint of heart – or for the thin of wallet – but it is the most comprehensive account available of the many hundreds of different grape varieties that are made into wine. It is the varietal that makes the greatest contribution to the characteristics of each wine and that helps make each bottle you open distinctive, and Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vuillamoz profile nearly 1,400 grape varieties providing descriptions and thumbnail histories and the latest DNA-based conclusions on how they are all related. If this book does not start you thirsting to open a Graševina, a Nosiola, or a Tribidrag at the earliest opportunity, nothing will!

By Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Jose Vouillamoz

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An indispensable book for every wine lover, from some of the world's greatest experts.

Where do wine grapes come from and how are they related to each other? What is the historical background of each grape variety? Where are they grown? What sort of wines do they make and, most importantly, what do they taste like?

Using the most cutting-edge DNA analysis and detailing almost 1,400 distinct grape varieties, as well as myriad correct (and highlighting almost as many incorrect) synonyms, this particularly beautiful book includes revelatory grape family trees, and a rich variety of illustrations from Viala and Vermorel's…


Book cover of The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song: A Spirited Look at Catholic Life & Lore from the Apocalypse to Zinfandel

Michael P. Foley Author Of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour

From my list on culture and booze.

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).

Michael's book list on culture and booze

Michael P. Foley Why did Michael love this book?

This could be the most bizarre monograph you will ever have on your bookshelf. The subtitle is no lie: for every letter of the alphabet, Zmirak has assembled an entertaining assortment of food recipes, drinking songs, history lessons, wine suggestions, or one of the Ten Commandments impishly explained. In the dedication, Zmirak and contributing author Denise Matychowiak list as their inspirations Pope Benedict XVI, food authors Paula Wolfert and M.F.K. Fisher, and Weird Al Yankovic. Need I say more?

By John Zmirak, Denise Matychowiak,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This sequel to the highly-praised Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living allows you to view Catholic life from a unique perspective. Starting with the wines, beers, and liquors made around the world by monks, the authors explore everything from Irish history to the secrets of the Knights Templar, with drinking games, food, and cocktail recipes, and rollicking drinking songs.


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

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

From my list on cocktail books from a bourbon/whiskey expert.

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.  

Susan's book list on cocktail books from a bourbon/whiskey expert

Susan Reigler Why did Susan 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 The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson Author Of The 12 Bottle Bar: Make Hundreds of Cocktails with Just Twelve Bottles

From my list on chronicle the history of cocktails.

Who am I?

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson has written the book Gin: A Global History and is completing Liqueur: A Global History. Her work has been seen in the Los Angeles Times, Imbibe, Sierra, and Gourmet. She is Senior Editor at Chilled magazine, as well as Cocktail/Spirits Historian at the Center of Culinary Culture in Los Angeles. With her husband David Solmonson, Lesley co-wrote The 12 Bottle Bar, a #1 best-selling cocktail book on Amazon. Named one of the “9 Best Cocktail Books" by the Independent UK, The 12 Bottle Bar is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of the American Cocktail. The Solmonsons’ work has been featured in numerous media outlets.

Lesley's book list on chronicle the history of cocktails

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson Why did Lesley love this book?

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Tony Conigliaro’s Drink Factory laboratory in London where I found a mad scientist’s lair filled with complex, technical equipment, dry erase boards covered in formulas, and shelves of esoteric, bottled ingredients. While The Cocktail Lab finds a logical home in the era of molecular mixology, it is far more than that, showcasing its author as part chemist, part bartender, and part magician. First and foremost, the book captures what Conigliaro calls his “love affair with liquids”. The book’s cocktails – many of which I have tasted – are sensory experiences that capture not only flavors, but aromas, textures, and even memories. While modernizing many classic recipes, Conigliaro simultaneously pushes the definition of what a cocktail is and can be. For me, The Cocktail Lab celebrates the ever-evolving possibilities of liquid pleasure in the modern world and how a cocktail can be a transformative…

By Tony Conigliaro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the U.K.'s preeminent bartender and one of the leading authorities on "modernist mixology" comes this collection of 60 revolutionary cocktails, all grounded in the classics but utilizing technologies and techniques from the molecular gastronomy movement.

The right cocktail is more than just a drink. It's the perfect combination of scent, color, sound, and taste. Utilizing a broad spectrum of influences—including gastronomy, perfumery, music, art, and design—Tony Conigliaro has established himself as one of the most innovative and thought-provoking mixologists in the world. In The Cocktail Lab, Tony presents his best and boldest creations: drinks like the Vintage Manhattan, Dirty…


Book cover of ¡Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico

David Carey Jr. Author Of Distilling the Influence of Alcohol: Aguardiente in Guatemalan History

From my list on alcohol in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Who am I?

Raised on happy hours on Cape Cod, MA patios with my Irish-American relatives, I long have been fascinated by how alcohol can bring people together and facilitate bonds that traverse both hardship and joy. During my travels and research in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador, I observed how alcohol could both render families asunder and unite communities. As addiction makes clear, alcohol could hold tremendous power over individuals. But it also marked the identities of even the most casual drinkers. Throughout my research on other topics—crime, gender, medicine—alcohol consistently emerges as a crucial avenue of inquiry. The books listed below offer innovative and insightful ways of centering alcohol in scholarly narratives. 

David's book list on alcohol in Latin America and the Caribbean

David Carey Jr. Why did David love this book?

With clear and engaging prose, Gaytan reveals the power dynamics that shaped tequila’s trajectory in Mexico and abroad.

She traces tequila’s meteoric rise past other agave-derived drinks like pulque and mezcal. I really appreciate how she approaches her study as a sociologist but does not eschew history in her analysis. Although ancient Mayas were among the first to produce and consume tequila, its association with modernity can be attributed, in part, to modern marketers disassociating tequila from indigenous inebriation.

Even as she firmly grounds tequila in lo Mexicano or being Mexican, Gaytan also explores tequila’s influence and popularity in the United States. Her book reminded me how different my experience of drinking tequila in the United States has been from my enjoyment of tequila in cantinas in Mexico. 

By Marie Sarita Gaytán,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked ¡Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Italy has grappa, Russia has vodka, Jamaica has rum. Around the world, certain drinks-especially those of the intoxicating kind-are synonymous with their peoples and cultures. For Mexico, this drink is tequila. For many, tequila can conjure up scenes of body shots on Cancun bars and coolly garnished margaritas on sandy beaches. Its power is equally strong within Mexico, though there the drink is more often sipped rather than shot, enjoyed casually among friends, and used to commemorate occasions from the everyday to the sacred. Despite these competing images, tequila is universally regarded as an enduring symbol of lo mexicano.

!Tequila!…


Book cover of Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis

Michael P. Foley Author Of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour

From my list on culture and booze.

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).

Michael's book list on culture and booze

Michael P. Foley Why did Michael love this book?

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. 

By Kingsley Amis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kingsley Amis was one of the great masters of comic prose, and no subject was dearer to him than the art and practice of imbibing. This new volume brings together the best of his three out-of-print works on the subject: Kingsley Amis in Drink, Everyday Drinking and How's Your Glass? In one handsome package, the book covers a full shelf of the master's riotous and erudite thoughts on the drinking arts: Along with a series of well-tested recipes (including a cocktail called the Lucky Jim) are Amis's musings on The Hangover, The Boozing Man's Diet, The Mean Sod's Guide, and…