“Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit” by Emma Janzen (Voyageur Press, $25)
Emma Janzen, an editor for beverage magazine Imbibe, takes readers on an in-depth journey through the past, present and future of Mexico’s indigenous agave spirit. With mezcal’s recent uptick in popularity (a nearly 48% growth rate over the last decade,) Janzen explores mezcal’s beginnings and its transformation to the spirit we know today. She talks a little folklore while also speaking to the dedication and craftsmanship of the families who have for centuries grown the agave and fermented and distilled its juices. Janzen details the often ancient methods involved in harvesting, roasting, fermenting and distilling the over 50 species of maguey used by small, family-owned Mexican distilleries and how “Big Liquor” is getting in on the game (for better or for worse.)
The book contains over 50 recipes and includes choosing mezcals for sipping flights. For spirits enthusiasts looking for a reference manual which digs deep into the differences between mezcal and tequila accompanied by beautiful photography and concise storytelling, Janzen’s “Mezcal” is it.
“The Imbible: A Cocktail Guide for Beginning and Home Bartenders” by Micah LeMon (University of Virginia Press, $29.95)
This handy, all-in-one guide to bartending is as advertised: a beginner’s guide to bartending. Micah LeMon, the bar manager at the James Beard Award-winning Alley Light in Charlottesville, VA, starts off his guide with a confession. When he first began tending bar 20 years ago, he knew nothing about cocktails, spirits or bar culture. LeMon comes from an evangelical Christian background where booze is considered the Devil. He laments not having a reference guide during those first harried months behind the bar.
“The Imbible” is meant for both the home and fledgling bartender. A Cliffs Notes-like guide to bartending, the to-the-point guide doesn’t skimp on the details, providing definitions and explanations of various spirits, secondary ingredients like shrubs and syrups, basic techniques and bar tools needed. LeMon has created an easy-to-follow breakdown of basic cocktail knowledge from shaking and stirring to building a balanced cocktail to time-tested, classic recipes. A must how-to manual for any beginner as well as a great refresher for those who’ve been behind the bar for years.
“Rum Curious” by Fred Minnick (Voyageur Press, $25)
Most known for his writings on bourbon and whiskey, author Fred Minnick takes on that other brown spirit, rum in all of its unregulated and misunderstood glory. Minnick is one of those spirits writers who is unafraid to tackle difficult and often controversial subjects in the distillery and whiskey world and digs deep into the histories behind his conclusions. In “Rum Curious”, Minnick continues to ask those difficult questions while discussing the spirit’s Caribbean roots and unregulated past. Look for chapters to delve into the sugar beet or sugarcane debate, rum’s loose rules and regulations for production, and even calling out food and drink media for continuing to spread misinformation about the caustic spirit.
What sets this rum book apart from all the others is Minnick’s last few chapters dedicated to tasting notes of both unaged and aged rums as well as an appendix of the world’s various rum distilleries. For those just dipping their toe into the vast world of rum, this book may be a bit overwhelming but stick with it. For the rum enthusiast, “Rum Curious” is a must-buy spirits resource.
“Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails” by Sara Camp Milam and Jerry Slater (University of Georgia Press, $22)
The AJC Bar Scene has spoken at length about this particular cocktail book and, Atlanta, it’s finally out. Atlanta cocktail enthusiasts and regulars of Jerry Slater’s now shuttered H. Harper Station in Reynoldstown, have been eagerly awaiting his next project with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). Co-authored by managing editor of the SFA, Sara Camp Milam, the book contains over 80 recipes which are broken down into ten chapters and includes 15 essays written by Slater, Milam and a host of southern bartenders and cocktail historians.
The SFA’s cocktail guide fuses fact-based storytelling with recipes based on the South’s history and its future as a diverse cultural region. The essays add context to each chapter’s cocktail category and discuss the events of the period which surround each drink; including the South’s complicated and often dirty past. Look for recipes from Atlanta bartenders Navarro Carr, Tiffanie Barriere, Kellie Thorn, Miles Macquarrie, Paul Calvert and Greg Best.
“3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon” By Robert Simonson (Ten Speed Press, $18.99)
New York Times cocktail writer and author Robert Simonson’s latest book makes it clear that fancy pants ingredients and a multitude of steps are unnecessary for making a good cocktail. Simonson breaks down the history of 75 of cocktail’s past and present classics in three-ingredients while infusing a bit of history (and opinion) into each drink included.
“Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World’s Most Spirited Mousers” by Brad Parsons (Ten Speed Press, $14.99)
Attention all cocktail and cat lovers, this book is for you. Author (and cat dad) Brad Parson charms readers with his history of the cats who have kept the world’s distilleries pest free while also becoming the faithful companions to the distillers themselves. Parson includes “interviews” and sketches of 30 distillery cats and provides trading cards for each with cat stats like the number of mice they have killed. The book contains 15 recipes.
“Road Soda: Recipes and techniques for making great cocktails, anywhere” by Kara Newman (Dovetail, $20)
Kara Newman, author and spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast, is constantly traveling the country in search of the next cocktail or spirits trend. All of this time spent on the road leads her to some cities with limited bar and cocktail selections as well as hotels with nothing but a mini fridge full of basic booze. In her latest book, “Road Soda”, Newman explores making drinks while on the road using only the mini bar or an airplane drinks cart. With the help of some of the country’s leading bartenders, readers will learn how to make portable roadies or in-room cocktails using what’s on hand in the mini fridge to turn a hotel room into a makeshift, personal bar. The book also includes recipes for tailgating and camping.