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Boozy books: 3 great books about cocktails, spirits and drinking

September 10, 2017

By Dick

Reading about booze is pretty much the next best thing to drinking. But you can always do both at the same time, and no one will tell you to do something more productive. Heck, you’re feeding your mind and your body at the same time. Nothing wrong with that. There are tons of great books out there to teach or inspire you about drinks and drinking. These are just a few favourites to whet your whistle. Remember to shop Canadian: Check out some of these books and more from our friends at Toronto’s BYOB Cocktail Emporium.


America Walks into a Bar
By Christine Sismondo
Oxford University Press, 2011

If nothing else than for the colour vernacular — the book’s subtitle is “a spirited history of taverns and saloon, speakeasies and grog shops” — this book is a real gem. It is deeply researched and artfully written. As a thoughtful account of the history of drinking in North America, it may be unparalleled. “America as we know it,” Sismondo writes in her introduction “was born in a bar.” She goes on to describe dozens of ocassions wherein the actions that led to the building of America (or the dismantling, in the case of anti-government plots and assassinations) began in taverns, bars and pubs. In many frontier or pioneer towns, the tavern, or public house (aka, the inn), was the first place to be built, becoming a hub for everything from weddings to conspiratorial gatherings. It was a network of inns that made it possible for travellers to make their way across the land and populate the vast country. Truly, the pub played a vital role in the building of community and, indeed, empire. And there are some funny stories to boot.

Classic Cocktails: A Modern Shake

By Mark Kingwell

McClelland & Stewart, 2006

Mark Kingwell, the author-philosopher who teaches at University of Toronto, begins his treatise on cocktails by lining up a list of famous thinkers — Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, David Hume — who were known to enjoy more than the odd tipple. (Yes, it sounds much like the Monty Python song: “… and Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink therefore I am!”). For those who like their mixed drinks with a healthy does of lore, legend, back story and talking points, this is your book. It’s nicely written, for one: Kingwell penned a drinks column for the defunct men’s magazine Toro, for which he won a National Magazine Award. It’s an episodic book. Kingwell tackles classic drinks such as the Gimlet, Negroni, Tom Collins, Manhattan, Zombie, Gibson and many others, each with an anecdote-filled chapter. It’s a fun read, guaranteed to give you more than enough ammo to banter with even the most accomplished bartender, hipster or otherwise. (Note: May be out of print.)

The PDT Cocktail Book
By Jim Meehan
Stirling Epicure, 2011

This is the only cocktail instruction manual you need. Lord knows there were many before it, and many yet to come. Not to mention blogs and PR-company-issued recipes ad nauseam. You can ignore them all, get this book, and still wind up light years ahead of every other cocktail dilletante. (And if reading really isn’t your thing, watch Meehan make cocktails here with the New York Times.) Meehan is the brains behind PDT — aka, Please Don’t Tell — the cocktail bar that ushered in the modern era of the hipster mixologist and the hipster speakeasy. To get into PDT, you’d enter a hotdog stand on St. Marks Place in New York City, walk into the phone booth and dial. If you were worthy, the back of the booth would open and you’d have immediate bragging rights, plus a superlative cocktail experience. This book gives you all the basics for setting up your home cocktail bar, plus dozens of classic and modern recipes. There’s also an extensive reading list at the back, so you can go way deep if you want.