Gift Guide: 13 Great Cocktail, Spirits and Bartending Books from 2016

Books stacked on bookshelves

The cocktail book category seems to grow exponentially every year, and 2016 brought readers everything from bourbon to amaro to tiki. (Photo: David_Ahn via iStock)

Another year, another slew of smart, thought-provoking and entertaining cocktail books. Tomes about spirits, bar ownership, drinking cultures and more filled the shelves as bartenders and cocktail experts put pen to paper. The category of cocktail books is ever-growing, and this year brought readers everything from bourbon to amaro, from minimalist equal-parts drinks to over-the-top tiki builds, from drinking to your health (literally) to the goings-on behind the scenes of a World’s Best Bar.

Because we’re in peak gift-giving season, because a certain holiday is mere days away, and because books are equal parts thoughtful gift and handy last-minute solution for shopping procrastinators, here’s just a smattering of the titles published this year that any bartender would be lucky to sport on their shelf.

For Your Open-Minded Friend in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts or Maine: “Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics” by Warren Bobrow

“It adds very green tasting notes and aromas, and I find that to be quite beguiling,” Warren Bobrow told us earlier this year. That “it” is referring to cannabis, which makes its way into cocktails in the form of tinctures and infusions dreamed up by Bobrow for his guide to more, ah, herbacious drinks, “Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics.” Though the concept of adding THC to alcohol has catalyzed some debate in the mixology community, Bobrow’s stance is more apothecarist than bong-ripping bro: he cites the historical precedent of cannabis-infused elixirs and views them more as a health tonic than a one-way ticket to outer space. Just use common sense: don’t try these at home if recreational marijuana’s illegal in your state, never experiment with these at a bar or other commercial establishment, and remember, if you go too far, a glass of lemonade with three to four black peppercorns will set you straight. According to Bobrow, at least.

For everyone on your list: “Regarding Cocktails” by Sasha Petraske with Georgette Moger-Petraske

Perhaps one of the most anticipated releases of 2016, this beautiful book is both tribute to and legacy of one of the world’s greatest bartenders, who passed away unexpectedly last year. Sasha Petraske’s subtle wit, revered wisdom and timeless recipes are preserved in these pages thanks to the efforts of his wife, spirits writer Georgette Moger-Petraske, who lovingly and generously worked to complete the book. From Milk and Honey devotees to young bartenders interested in gleaning the wisdom of a legend, this book will suit any reader interested in cocktail culture and the man who helped to catalyze it.

For the aspiring owner of the next World’s Best Bar: “The Canon Cocktail Book” by Jamie Boudreau

Jamie Boudreau’s drinks helped to solidify Canon’s status among the world’s best bars, so it’s no surprise that the recipes in this book would appeal to advanced cocktail connoisseurs. But where this tome really shines is through Boudreau’s own insights, observations and advice for opening a bar, keeping operations running smoothly and elevating every detail along the way. Expect a refreshingly honest take on what it really takes to run a world-class bar like Canon — and, of course, no shortage of equally world-class recipes.

For the Pappy hound: “Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of American Whiskey” by Fred Minnick

With the great bourbon revival, many lay claim to the title of expert. But few have chops quite like Fred Minnick’s. The whiskey historian has multiple titles under his belt already, including a history of women in whiskey and an interactive guide to tasting whiskey. His latest promises an in-depth, colorful retrospective of bourbon’s role in America, dispelling a few myths and uncovering some little-known truths along the way.

For the bartending minimalist: “Shake. Stir. Sip. More Than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts” by Kara Newman

In a world of twelve-ingredient cocktails and sub-sub-sub recipes, Wine Enthusiast spirits editor Kara Newman’s take on drink recipes is a breath of fresh air. Each cocktail listed here is equal-parts, straightforward, quick to mix, and very, very difficult to mess up — making it a perfect fit not just for home bartenders, but also professional bartenders who just want a good drink without, you know, feeling like they’re at work.

For the aperitivo aficionado: “Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes” by Leslie Pariseau and Talia Baiocchi

This homage to Italy’s culture of low-ABV, easy drinking came from an editor at Saveur and the editor-in-chief of PUNCH, meaning it was destined from the start to be masterfully executed (and beautiful to look at). Leslie Pariseau and Talia Baiocchi combine a little history, a bit of travel and culture, and a slew of delicious recipes from bartenders around the world for their love letter to all things bubbly and refreshing. The rigorous research process involved the duo embarking on a road trip to seven different Italian cities to explore each community’s unique spritz culture, making the book just as much a wanderlust-inducing travelogue as it is a cocktail book.

For the Hawaiian Shirt-Wearing, Orgeat-Making, Rum-Swilling Tiki Fan: “Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki” by Martin Cate

The culture of tiki is so much more than syrupy sweet drinks, tiny umbrellas and vintage Hawaiian shirts. And few people understand this quite like Martin Cate, proprietor of San Francisco’s renowned Smuggler’s Cove and devoted student of the deep, rich history rooted in Polynesian pop culture. In Cate’s expansive book, he looks at the history of tiki and how it was revived, how bars and home aficionados can recreate the tiki experience on their own, how he built that experience at Smuggler’s Cove, and over 100 recipes from their award-winning bar program (plus a few new ones created specifically for this book).

For the Friend Who Hits the Bar on Their Way Home from Yoga: “Zen and Tonic” by Jules Aron and “The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Drinking” by Ariane Resnick and Brittani Rae

Can you live a healthy lifestyle and regularly enjoy a good drink at the same time? This year, a few books set out to prove that yes, you can.

Bartender-turned-author Jules Aron published “Zen and Tonic,” her guide to cocktails “for the enlightened drinker,” earlier this spring. The book sets out to bring readers back to the old-school philosophy of cocktail as conduit of the medicinal properties of plants, focusing on florals, herbs, fresh fruits and natural sugars. While we have a long way to go before a cocktail can truly be “guilt-free,” Aron imbues hers with healthy alternatives to mass-produced mixers and syrups — think kombucha concoctions, herbal tonics and fruits front and center, all with a nice kick of booze.

2015 Speed Rack champion Brittani Rae isn’t just formidably fast behind the stick; she’s also incredibly creative when it comes to cocktail creation. In “The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Drinking,” Rae teamed up with nutritionist and bestselling author Ariane Resnick to offer a comprehensive guide to home bartending that eschews artificial flavoring agents, high-sugar ingredients and other nasty add-ons. Instead, you’ll find drinks that use ingredients boasting antioxidants and other wellness benefits, from greens to coconut cream. For home bartenders, the book also includes a helpful crash-course on prep, glassware and techniques.

For the Embittered: “Amaro” by Brad Thomas Parsons

The follow-up to Parsons’ 2011 “Bitters” compendium, “Amaro” picks up the mantle and explores the production, categorization, and history of the storied bittersweet liqueur. (Complete with a slew of recipes, of course.) Parsons describes it as a companion piece to the James Beard Award-winning “Bitters,” and “a love letter to Italy filtered through my American point of view.” As bartenders continue exploring the category and more guests dip a toe in the waters, “Amaro” makes for essential reading for anyone on either side of the bar.

For the Bartender Who Rolls Her Eyes When Someone Calls a Drink ‘Girly’: “Drink Like a Woman: Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat” by Jeanette Hurt

The sexist history of bartending culture; the laughable concept of “manly” or “girly” drinks; the many powerful women making huge moves behind the bar — it’s all up for discussion in Jeanette Hurt’s girl power cocktail guide (plus, all the techniques, recipes and tips a home bartender might need to know). “Drink Like A Woman” features the life stories and recipes of feminist heroes, including noted bar matrons like Marcy Skowronksi, the feisty nonagenarian helming the bar at Milwaukee’s Holler House, and Ada Coleman, the first female celebrity mixologist who rose to fame at The Savoy around the turn of the 19th century (and invented the classic Hanky Panky).

For Your Cocky Young Barback Who’s Never Had to Make a Fuzzy Navel: “A Proper Drink: the Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World” by Robert Simonson

My, how far we’ve come. In the past two decades, cocktail culture has evolved by leaps and bounds thanks to the grit, determination, and good taste of a select few pioneers who endeavored to resurrect the classics and bring us back to a more thoughtful way of drinking. That’s the story as told by Robert Simonson, the New York Times drinks writer who profiles the hard-won gains made in the cocktail world over the last two decades, and the people we have to thank for them. Buy a copy for yourself to remember your roots; give another copy to a young whippersnapper who’s never used prepackaged sour mix and deserves to understand why.

For the Lovable Dingus in Your Life: “Cocktails for Ding Dongs” by Dustin Drankiewicz

Why so serious, cocktail books? In a time of leather-bound tomes espousing complex recipes and in-depth treatises on single spirits, it’s refreshing to see one take a lighter approach. With its doodle-esque line drawings and goofy title, “Cocktails for Ding Dongs” may look and sound like pure whimsy. But with know-how from Chicago bartender Dustin Drankiewicz, the book is actually packed with practical insight and solid recipes for classics, drinks resurrected from the “tini days,” and boozy drinks with aged spirits, all supplemented with hilarious illustrations. (Adjacent to the Lemon Drop recipe, two organic lemons watch from a farmstand as a third lemon jauntily struts by. “He’s just cocky because he’s going to The Aviary,” says one.)

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