Fred Minnick is the bon vivantiest of the bourbon-focused bon vivants, an ascot-wearing gentleman who knows his whiskey and dutifully reports all the news that’s fit to print from Kentucky and beyond.
Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker is exactly that, a guide to everything a novice drinker would want to know about bourbon (and only bourbon). What’s the difference between bourbon and other whiskeys? What’s with the new barrels? Why whiskey vs. whisky? Minnick runs you through all the basics that readers of this site probably already know — but which their friends probably ask them about all the damn time.
After zipping through all of that, Minnick spends a solid slug of time discussing the nose and flavor of bourbon in general, with an eye toward the many strange notes that can bubble up in the course of tasting bourbon. The main event is saved for last — over 50 bourbon brands digested with detailed tasting notes, even more detailed production information, and questions for the reader to ponder. Whether you’re putting together a tasting of Stagg or Pappy, Minnick is there to guide you along the way.
Fantastically approachable, it’s a whisky book that’s as easy to digest as a glass of Baker’s after dinner.
A- / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Homebrew beer cookbooks are legion, but this title from Michael Agnew is special — it’s stuffed with recipes for (real) craft beers, many of which from brand names you’ve probably actually tried. Lagunitas, Allagash, Rogue, Shmaltz — all of them are well represented among the roughly three dozen recipes in the paperback.
Each recipe spends two pages describing the beer then walking you through its construction, step by step, with precise measurements in both English and metric units. The book is sorted into chapters by style, though some beer types — pale ales and Belgians, namely — are over-represented next to less included lagers, rye, and wheat beers.
No matter. Take a flip through the book and see if there’s something you like in the table of contents. If nothing else, it’s worth the price of admission alone for the specifics on how to make Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ at home!
A- / $18 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
What do I look for in a cocktail book that I might add to my collection? Drinks that aren’t widely included in other books, a tenable theme, and lots of pictures of what the finished product looks like. (Half the time I find myself picking a beverage by appearance rather than its ingredients, and I wager most people do the same.)
Tiki Drinks has all three of those things. Nicole Weston and Robert Sharp curate about 60 cocktails for this slim but focused treatise on all things tiki. The primer upfront is brief but well conceived and helpful — the pages outlining different countries’ national styles of rum production is remarkably useful — before leading into page after page of classics and newfangled tiki drinks. Every cocktail gets a full page picture, and even the garnishes are innovative. (Who’d have thought to carve a lime peel into a skull to garnish a Zombie cocktail?)
I’ve no complaints with the selection of drinks, the recipes chosen — many tiki drinks have a wide range of potential ingredients and have changed considerably over the years — or the sometimes mildly offbeat direction that Weston and Sharp choose to take with some classics.
Weston and Sharp aren’t cocktail historians, nor do they pretend to be, so if you want another investigation into the early life of Don the Beachcomber, look elsewhere. With this book the duo simply gather up tiki’s greatest hits (and then some) and give the masses the means to make some popular rum-heavy cocktails at home, and that’s good enough for me.
A / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
This coffee table book takes you on a worldwide adventure of beer drinking, from Ireland to Germany to Japan to the U.S., author Bill Yenne aims to give us the lowdown about what it’s like to make beer and drink beer in various nations around the globe.
That’s really it. The prose is straightforward and the pictures are almost exclusively stock art, with most sections taking on a standard lineup of a) pictures of beer bottles, b) pictures of breweries, and c) pictures of bars. These are occasionally interspersed with d) pictures of ladies drinking beer.
As a historian, Yenne knows what he’s talking about — or at least he’s done his research — but what’s here is pretty close to the surface. Yenne offers a few specific brands — both majors and craft brews — to try when you’re in-country, and a few beerhalls and bars to visit, but any traveler hoping to use this for anything more than simple idea generation or inspiration will quickly be lost. There are no directions, maps, contact information, or other data required to actually make your own “world tour” out of the info in the book.
That makes sense given the format of the tome — an oversized hardcover — but the content inside just doesn’t seem to fit.
C- / $21 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Burnt out on brewing pilsners, lagers, and IPAs? Check out Drew Beechum and Denny Conn’s book Experimental Homebrewing, an oversized tome that uses as its apparent thesis that anything in your kitchen can be used to make beer.
Cilantro? Mushrooms? Peanut butter? You’ll need to get up earlier in the morning than that to stump this duo. There’s bacon beer in here. And beer made with a cut up chicken.
That said, most of Experimental Homebrewing is devoted to using more traditional ingredients in interesting ways to create more avant garde and hybrid styles of beers. Often a small amount of a slightly exotic ingredient — like pepper or chiles — will be called for to take things on a minor detour.
If you’re interested in pushing the homebrew boundaries — and really believe that the sky is the limit — this book is a must-read.
B+ / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Scotland is a magical place, and descriptions and tasting notes really don’t do it justice. If you’re a whisky fan and can’t visit in person, the next best thing is here: Charles MacLean’s Spirit of Place, with photos by Lara Platman and Allan MacDonald.
The book is a beautiful coffee table tome, with almost 300 pages of gorgeous pictures showcasing nearly 60 Scottish distilleries. The book is split up by region (distilleries are organized alphabetically within each region), and each gets a nice-sized writeup before moving on to the photos. Detailed captions explain not just what you’re seeing in each picture, but they also offer fun facts and interesting details about these places — many of which I had never heard before.
Platman and MacDonald have plenty of shots of copper pot stills, aluminum wash backs, and wooden casks, but they wisely choose to tell a broader story with photos than what you see only in the distillery and warehouse proper. From shots of barley fields to workers on the line, the photos really take you to the Scottish isles, whether that be through a telephoto view of the exterior of a distillery to a close-up view of whisky in a glass.
Pour a glass of whisky from one of these distilleries, then spend some time flipping through the relevant pages and see if it doesn’t enhance the experience.
A / $40 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Am I the only one who doesn’t like drinking out of a mason jar? Yeah, it looks old-timey and all, but the fat lip and groove for the lid always seems to make things sloppy.
That said, for the kinds of cocktails in The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion, by Shane Carley, this kind of delivery mechanism should work fine. Don’t go looking for highfalutin’ gastro-tails here. It’s all Tom Collins, margaritas (seven varieties!), and Long Island iced teas as far as the eye can see.
Nothing wrong with those drinks (for the most part), but do you need a special, hardcover book to tell you to put them in a mason jar when you’re done? By and large, Carley’s recip
es are straightforward and simple, with ample color photography to keep things interesting (though lots of this is just for show — I’m sure the discussion went along the lines of: how many finished drinks sitting in mason jars would the readers want to see?).
Ultimately I have nothing specific to complain about in Carley’s guidebook, and rank novice home bartenders looking to serve up cocktails for summertime parties will find it a fun introduction to basic drinkmaking. That said, I am not sure I can devote precious shelf space to recipes I have dozens of times over in other books — just served in different glassware.
C+ / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Homebrew is a neat idea, but who has the time to make it?
That’s the thesis of Mary Izett’s Speed Brewing, a book which provides exactly the type of instruction that you think it’s going to offer.
While the back cover promises you can make a “session IPA” in just a few hours, Izett’s how-to has a lot more to it than just beer. In fact, beer is a relatively minor focus of the book, which also covers speedy techniques for brewing cider, mead, boozy sodas, and even kombucha.
How well these techniques really work vs. traditional ones I can’t exactly say without making a whole bunch of homebrew, but the ideas here are really just shortcuts, not radical rethinks of the way everything works. The book is well written, breezy, and full of helpful, full-color photography to get you where you need to go. So homebrewers, give Izett’s ideas a shot and see if you can’t whip up a new batch of gose in time for dinner!
B+ / $13 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Cocktail party? OK. Craft cocktail party? Even better!
Julie Reiner’s big, hardbound book takes the now-popular seasonal approach to organization, dropping a couple dozen recipes into each of the four seasons. Reiner, owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn and the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, keeps things fairly simple — most of the cocktails only have three to five ingredients — but also very fresh. Most of the recipes have fresh produce, herbs, or juice in them, particularly those tied to the warmer months. The overall selection comprises both classics and freshened-up spins on them. It’s a concisely curated collection without a lot of fluff in it — which is both a good and a bad thing.
The Craft Cocktail Party features some full-color photography, but with a book like this — almost designed for the coffee table instead of the bookshelf — even more would be a nice feature. At the kind of craft cocktail soiree Reiner describes, I definitely want to see what I’m drinking before I run to the store for turbinado sugar.
B+ / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
A cynical beer drinker would say the concept of the new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What do Drink and When to Drink It is absurd. Beer should be drunk every day, amirite beer guys?
Well, author Randy Mosher of course has more sophisticated aims here: Pairing certain beer styles to certain seasons, holidays, festivals, and other occasions. Now this isn’t rocket science, really. You drink lighter beers in the summer on the beach and darker ones in the winter by the fire. And the only time you’d think of drinking a pumpkin beer is on Thanksgiving.
Well, not so fast, as Mosher reminds you that traditions and local customs may compel some surprising consumption. Black IPA for Easter dinner? Who knew?
Mosher’s got lots of general info about beer styles, production, glassware, and even pouring methods — and lots of color pictures to keep this all breezy and fun. This is also the first book I have seen that publicly called out the long-debunked “tongue map” as inaccurate and replaced it with more modern science. (It’s amazing how many people continue to hold on to this nutty idea that you only taste salt on the sides of your tongue and sweetness on the tip.)
Overall, this is a quick read that will make you instantly ready for a brew. Worth it for the putting all the information about all the “beer weeks” around the country in one place alone.
B+ / $11 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]