Holiday Spirits Part 1

Holiday Spirits Part 1

The riot reports are coming in from malls around the country. Leftover turkey is being repurposed into sandwiches. Families are licking collective wounds from yesterday’s political “discussions”. And, of course, consumers are paying top dollar for iPhone boxes full of potatoes. It can mean only one thing Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Solstice-related-holiday-of-your-choice is ahead and Black Friday is all around.

It’s at this point that I start thinking about gift giving. Thinking about: The actual gift acquisition generally involves a December 24 visit to the mall. I find a little panic helps bring focus to the endeavor. I recognize, though, that others may do a little more planning in this department. The Drinkist is as fond of the commercialization of the season as anyone else, so in the spirit of the season and of public service, I’ve put together some thoughts about gifts for the drinkers on your list.

We’ll start with books about booze because I love reading about drinking almost as much as I enjoy drinking. Since you’re here, I’m guessing you like boozy prose at least a little bit, and there’s a fair chance that the drinkers in your life will feel the same. A book can keep giving, particularly if it’s one with lots of recipes for the drinker in your life to try over time.

There are, unsurprisingly, a large number of alcohol tomes to be had.  I have a nice little selection myself. Some of these are highly specialized, some are pretty picture books short on content, some are full of drink recipes, some have only a few. For today’s list, I’m concentrating on names that are good selections for a general audience – ideal for someone who has enjoyed a drink or two and wants to learn more about the wider ethanolic world. These aren’t necessarily the “must haves” or my “best bar books” or anything like that. They’re just good, solid choices. I’m sure I’ll have reason to list some more names in a future post. For now, let’s dive in to the selections:


These are classic how-to books that give you the information you need to mix your own cocktails and rule with confidence over your home bar.

The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff. It’s a book with pretty pictures and a lot of content. It’s a great book for someone who wants to start mixing more drinks at home – it has guidance, inspiration and 500+ recipes. The author (aka King Cocktail) is one of the great mixologists of our time and widely credited with launching today’s cocktail renaissance.

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh. As the name implies, this one is a little less mainstream than The Craft of the Cocktail, but just because it tends to focus on drinks that have fallen from the mainstream including a personal favorite for this time of year, the Widow’s Kiss. Ted (aka Dr. Cocktail) does, however, cover lots of tips for the home bartender and walks you through the steps in making the cocktails as well offering great historic context (and some more common drinks in an appendix).


In this case, the line between theory and practice isn’t so clear as you might imagine. Both of these books come with plenty of drink recipes. They also come with more abstract discussions on cocktail classifications and components. Even the abstractions have lots of practical benefits, though, from remembering recipes to inventing new ones. Great for people who have been messing around in the bar and are ready to get a bit more serious.

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury. Not as widely circulated as some of the others on this list, Embury’s classic (originally published in 1948) has to be included on any short-list for greatest cocktail book of all time. Embury was, like yours truly, not a drinks professional. He was an attorney by trade, but a drinks connoisseur by avocation. His frameworks are clear and extensive and his opinions strong and direct. I don’t agree with all of them (he has philistine dislike of champagne cocktails), but you have to admire his courage in sticking to his guns.

The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan. Although it’s aimed a little bit more squarely at professional bartenders, it’s an invaluable resource for the home practitioner with lots of helpful tips and guidelines as well as a slew of recipes. You might consider pairing this with another of his books, The Bartender’s Bible. When I mentioned that book to Gaz at a cocktail dinner, his expression was that of a minister being reminded of some of his college hijinks. Still, where else are you going to fine drink names like “The Green-Tailed Dragon of the Maroon Morning”?


Ready to settle back in the armchair with a cocktail and a good book? These books offer great stories and material to impress your drinking companions at the bar. Time to feed your inner Cliff Clavin.

Imbibe by David Wondrich. The first cocktail book to win a James Beard Award. This tour de force offers an exploration of the historic drinking context of Jerry Thomas who wrote the first bartender’s guide back in 1862. Having met Dave a few times, I’m quite sure he’ll grimace if he ever finds out I used the term tour de force, but it really is a work that redefined what drinks writing could be – conversational, funny and deeply researched all at the same time.

And A Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. From colonial kill-devil to the modern mojito, this book traipses through history to see how rum evolved over time and drove some of the forces that moved history. You also get a bit of a guide to rum on the market and some drink suggestions. A great read.

Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately. At well over 500 pages, this book doubles as a workout aid. I spent many happy hours in the pool with a drink in one hand and this book in the other. It surveys the very broad sweep of our relationship with alcohol from prehistory forward. A good choice for the dedicated reader on your list.  


These books explore the stuff of alcohol – either particular drinks or the plants that go into the things we drink.

The Complete Beer Course by Joshua M. Bernstein. It promises beer geekdom in 12 lessons and delivers. Don’t expect to finish it off in a matter of two weeks, though. Each of the lessons covers a number of subtopics, usually about particular styles of beer. It does survey the field, though, and makes for a great shopping list when you’re making a beer run.


The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. At over 1,000 pages, this one is even weightier than Drink. It’s a great book to sample occasionally as you drill down into one of the wine regions that it surveys. (Want to know about Texas wines? They’re in here.) Of course, you can go through from front to back. Just be sure to pace yourself.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.Most of what we drink owes its existence to plants. Can’t have bourbon without corn. Can’t have gin without juniper. And there are plenty of other ingredients we hardly ever think about. Grains of Paradise? Monkey Puzzle? Meadowsweet? All this is discussed from a drinks perspective with a few tasty recipes sprinkled throughout.