If there's anyone who turns to solid book research when trying to make up for a lack of experience, it's me. I was a graduate research student before working at K&L and spent my 2 years of that life in a library. That being said, when i got the job at K&L I started diving into the wine manuals as fast as possible. Same for when I thought I might give this spirits thing a try. For every good book about booze that exists in this world, there are five bad ones. Here are some that are worth your time if you are looking for something to expand your own knowledge or are looking for a non-alcoholic gift (concerning alcohol) for someone you know. I have read and fully recommend each of the following.
Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide - Michael Jackson - This is simply the most informative, interesting, and colorful book about whiskey that exists. The attention to detail concerning production, sourcing materials, water, malting, history, and distillery specifics is incredible. It's even fun for people who don't like whiskey. Put together by the late, great Michael Jackson (not the pop singer), it's more of a coffee table reference that won't ever be read cover to cover, but will be returned to time and time again like a solid atlas or encyclopedia set.
The Scottish Whisky Distilleries - Misako Udo - Not an easy book to track down (currently out of print and being updated for a new edition sometime in the future), I had to order mine from the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland, pay for it in English Pounds (not a good conversion rate for us) and then pay for international shipping. Was is worth it? Yes, indeed. This book is simply a straight forward whisky almanac. There is little text concerning style, tasting notes, or history - this work is all about the specs. Wash bin sizes, type of still, capacity, amount produced, barley type, and even the name and picture of the distillery mousers (the cats that keep the rodents away!). It's only for the hardcore whisky fan, but it's indispensable for those who care.
Imbibe! - David Wondrich - A beautiful history of the cocktail and the evolution of each style of drink, including the first celebrity bartender Jerry Thomas. The cocktail renaissance started long, long ago and this book by cocktail historian David Wondrich is the most detailed account of how it has evolved. Full of recipes as well as facts, it's a book you will literally drink your way through (and that's a fun way to read).
Joy Of Mixology - Gary Reagan - Stay away from those brightly-colored, glossy-covered, "101 Cocktails" manuals you see at Draeger's or Borders near the check out. This is the only book you need. It covers tools, technique, and ingredients for making the finest cocktails and it's geared towards the serious pre-Prohibitionist. If you need another book for mixing drinks you should be writing this blog not reading it.
Bourbon, Straight - Chuck Cowdery - This book is 100% American history and has been one of the most helpful resources for me since taking over the spirits department. It chronicles the history of the American bourbon families and how bourbon became big business here at home. It answered about 100 questions that I had about who made what, where they made it, and how they began making it. If you like rye or bourbon then you need to read this.
Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol - Iain Gately - This fascinating history of alcohol in general covers wine and beer as well, but it starts long before the birth of Christ and is one of the best books I've read all year - fiction and non-fiction. If you like to drink at all you will get a kick out of learning about the Egyptians drinking unfiltered beer through thick straws and Pliny the Elder's time in Pompeii.
- David Driscoll