This summer’s film release of the Great Gatsby — with its lavish party scenes, hidden speakeasys and free flowing champagne — have led me to finally feel like it’s time to write here about something I’ve noticed in book publishing for awhile: a proliferation of cocktail books.
It’s not just The Great Gatsby of course, there has been a renewed interest in classic cocktails and cocktail culture in North America in the last few years and publishers have certainly taken notice. This being a blog about reading, I won’t be focusing here on cocktail making guides (although the library certainly has plenty), but rather on books that talk about the history, and sometimes science, of cocktails and their ingredients (and maybe throw in a few recipes in to boot).
If you’re looking for a history of cocktails from the American perspective, you don’t need to look much further than Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash … (M) by David Wondrich. Wondrich is a cocktail authority, co-founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail (it’s in New Orleans) and his book follows the life of a prominent early bartender Professor Jerry Thomas. Filled with stories (and recipes) from 19th Century cocktail saloons, the book won a James Beard Foundation book award.
The title of The Drunken Botanist : the plants that create the world’s great drinks (M) by Amy Stewart probably gives you a pretty good indication of what the book is about, and this book will probably be of great interest to anyone with an interest in individual cocktail ingredients. The publisher notes “Of all the extraordinary and obscure plants that have been fermented and distilled, a few are dangerous, some are downright bizarre, and one is as ancient as dinosaurs—but each represents a unique cultural contribution to our global drinking traditions and our history.”
Back to Gatsby, those interested in the times when cocktails were not so publicly embraced, may want to investigate Last Call: the rise and fall of prohibition (M) by Daniel Okrent, which documents the period in the 1920s and 30s when alcohol was outlawed in America.
Oh, and speaking of The Great Gatsby, if your interest in cocktails is tied to the film/book, you may want to view our post from earlier this year: Everything Gatsby.