Some people take a stack of magazines to the beach. Others bring crime or romance novels. Cocktail lovers? They relax by reading about the latest in distilling, the lore behind their favorite spirit, or new drink recipes to shake and stir.
Here are eight books to enjoy as you chill out — with your favorite beverage at your side.
“Distilling the South: A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors” by Kathleen Purvis (North Carolina Press, $30)
You may have heard of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. Kathleen Purvis expands upon that, weaving through 11 states and creating six liquor trails from West Virginia to Florida. “Distilling the South” is like a logbook on a road trip with a friend, with everything one needs to know to find and explore Southern distilleries of all kinds. Each trail is replete with backstories about their inspiration, and how each one fits into Southern foodways, highlighting the people distilling. She throws in a couple of recipes for making cocktails with spirits she discovered. In Atlanta, she recounts visits to the ASW, Lazy Guy and Old Fourth distilleries. (You can tell that ASW’s head distiller, Justin Manglitz, wasn’t there during her visit, as she would have more storytelling to add.) Her tips on visiting are insightful, although laws thankfully changed in Georgia during completion of her book.
“Booze and Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music & Mixed Drinks” by André Darlington and Tenaya Darlington (Running Press, $25)
It’s not only a lovely cocktail table book (see what I did there?), but “Booze and Vinyl” also is a plan for a perfect hangout with music, friends and drinks. It divides 70 albums into sections (rock, dance, chill, seduce) with accompanying cocktails for a two-drink listening section matched to the vibes of the songs. Text is superimposed on album images, with an A-side and B-side cocktail for each, and sometimes snack recipes. The sibling authors grew up listening to records with family, and get the power of music to match one’s mood (and cocktail). Near the middle, the bittersweet comfort of an Old Pal cocktail pairs with Jackson Browne. I tried it. It works.
“Session Cocktails: Low Alcohol Drinks for Any Occasion” by Drew Lazor and the Editors of Punch (Ten Speed Press, $18.99)
Low-alcohol drinks are gaining in popularity. “Session Cocktails” is an informative how-to on building a low-proof bar. What is delightful about this tiny tome is that each of the 60-plus recipes is presented on one page, with a pretty photo to match. Versions of session cocktails, defined as having no more than ¾ oz. spirits, are presented in shaken, stirred, built and frozen versions, with low-proof styles of classics as well. In the invitation to drink low-alcohol-by-volume concoctions, some of Atlanta’s best barkeeps share recipes, including Evan Millman’s Low Down from Ticonderoga Club.
“Batched and Bottled: Cocktails to Make Ahead” by Max and Noel Venning (Hardie Grant, $24.99)
The brothers behind the London bar Three Sheets guide the way to easy entertaining by prepping and batching cocktails ahead of time. This is not a beginner’s book, but more for those wanting to work on cocktail-making techniques like fat washing, clarification and fermentation. Inside, 50 recipes are arranged by season, following nature with ingredients and compatibility. (Publishing date: Aug. 7)
“The Bourbon Bible” by Eric Zandona (Octopus Publishing, $19.99)
Zandona is a spirits specialist at the American Distilling Institute. Here, he guides you to what you like, examining 140 bourbons, from tiny craft houses to the big names in the industry. He begins with a quick lowdown of the basics about bourbon. The meat of the book is single pages for each bourbon, with history, flavor notes, facts and the best way to drink each — plus, a handy dandy key. He even includes still type. More than 20 cocktail recipes using bourbon round out the book. It’s great for a collector of spirits, and a good one to keep in the car as a resource when visiting the bottle shop.
“And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails” by Wayne Curtis (Broadway Books, $16)
The new version of “And a Bottle of Rum” is updated, with new recipes and further enchantment as it tells the story of rum as the history of America. In his witty and illuminating style, Curtis portrays rum as a vital part of the culture and economy of the early colonies … with pirates! Each of the 10 chapters is named for a cocktail — from a Kill-Devil to a Mojito — as rum is invented and reinvented. Curtis is a talented storyteller, with a voice that is less authoritative and more “let’s discover together.”
“Mead: The Libations, Legends, and Lore of History’s Oldest Drink” by Fred Minnick (Running Press, $25)
Known as a bourbon authority, Minnick dives into honey wine and its renaissance in “Mead.” As you flip the glossy pages edged in a pretty honeycomb pattern, the book leans toward an ode to mead, and the way Minnick sees its importance in the history and science of mankind. Minnick chronicles its beginnings through historic eras and kingdoms, and guides the reader into making 25 types, as well as using mead in 50 cocktails. He delves into different species of bees, and we learn that the ancient Greeks loved honey and mead as much as the gods, packing it for long journeys. He posits that its creation led to an important chemical discovery by Aristotle, with central importance to mankind. Henceforth, sipping mead is deeply philosophical.
“Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor and the Search for the Origins of Wine” by Kevin Begos (Algonquin, $26.95)
This book came about from a chance encounter with a minibar wine in Jordan. From the moment Begos describes Cremisan wine, the reader is captivated. You don’t have to be an oenophile to dig this book. Begos takes us on a fun journey to the origin of wine, traveling ancient wine routes and talking to wine scientists who are working to decipher the family tree of wine grapes. He debunks myths along the way in his journey through vineyards. It’s part study of wine in history, science, religion, culture and literature, and part travel writing. After reading this book, you’ll wonder how there are so many flavors from grapes, and what did ancient wines taste like?