12 Bourbon Books Every Whiskey Lover Needs To Read

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For fans of bourbon, the next best thing to having a great bottle of bourbon on your liquor shelf is having great books about bourbon on your bookshelf. These volumes can provide information about the history, the distillation process, and little-known facts about your favorite beverage that separate it from its whiskey-soaked origins. Some of them show the famous distilleries of America in full photographic detail for diehard fans of bourbon creation to visit from a distance. Even for readers familiar with bourbon culture, the right books are fun and informative way to relive the experience whenever the spirit moves you.

Bourbon has a colorful background, a story that moves lockstep with the history of America and of the distilling industry itself. From its origins in Kentucky to its place on the list of spirits loved around the world, bourbon in all its forms is a masterwork. And for every bourbon aficionado wanting to know more, there is likely an author who has painstakingly researched and written about this bold concoction. Whether telling the tale of how bourbon came to be an American original or sharing recipes for exciting classic and contemporary bourbon-based cocktails, there are bourbon books out there that can quench every thirst.

1. Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler

Though the bourbon business is a robust trade today, it wasn't always such a celebrated product. Author Reid Mitenbuler takes a deep dive into the not-always-pretty history of bourbon in his 2015 book, "Bourbon Empire." Mitenbuler explores the legacies of some of the biggest names in the industry. This sobering narrative takes readers back to the earliest days of the whiskey, explaining the significance of American corn, exploring the distillation process, and carrying the story forward to discuss the origins of brands like Evan Williams and Jim Beam. The author attempts to uncover the truth among the tall tales to tell the story of bourbon for anyone fascinated by a drink with deep American roots.

In "Bourbon Empire," Mitenbuler soberly explains the complicated path this distilled spirit took while becoming a classic American creation. He treats every twist and turn in the story of bourbon with a journalist's sense of truth-telling. His interest in adult beverages has inspired pieces published in several well-known publications. Book reviews herald Mitenbuler's storytelling and dedication to historical detail, used to build a compelling biography of bourbon's long and celebrated existence.  

2. The Bourbon Bible by Eric Zandona

A comprehensive mixology guide to help cocktail crafters come up with the best bourbon concoctions is just what the bartender ordered. The author is liquor guru Eric Zandona, international spirits competition director at the American Distilling Institute and proprietor of online beverage hub EZ Drinking. He fills "The Bourbon Bible" on this liquor's backstory with a history lesson and enlightens readers on the creation process. He explores many popular bourbon bottles in this 2018 title's largest section before diving headlong into a comprehensive collection of drink recipes featuring bourbon as the star of the bar. The results are a compendium that brings bourbon to life in a fun and useful way, whether readers simply dive in to enjoy the ride or jump behind their home bar to make a few concoctions themselves. 

Much of Zandona's career has been dedicated to all things spirited. According to his American Distilling Institute biography, his education in alcohol includes a residency in Oaxaca learning the finer points of Mexican liquors. "The Bourbon Bible" compiles his affection for American beverages in a volume that emphasizes taste over price or brand popularity. Drinkers of all experience levels can indulge in this love letter to bourbon whiskey, which is equal parts appreciation guide and helpful how-to for home mixologists to sharpen their skills.

3. Buffalo, Barrels, & Bourbon: The Story of How Buffalo Trace Distillery Became The World's Most Awarded Distillery by F. Paul Pacult

Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, gets its own history book with "Buffalo, Barrels & Bourbon," F. Paul Pacult's account of the brand's rise to an award-winning American beverage. Pacult sets the stage with a detailed explanation of how the terrain in the southern state of Kentucky determined the destiny of what would become North American bourbon country. Settling the territory began the journey from mere earth to the site where one of the world's most popular spirits found its origins. A comprehensive index provides a listing to key moments and figures in bourbon's storied past, a helpful tool for revisiting significant aspects over the years without having to skim through the 240-page volume.

Pacault's website proclaims the author as an authority on American spirits, with more than three decades of published material celebrating and exploring the world of alcoholic beverages. His extensive knowledge on the subject brings depth and detail to his writing, prompting reviewers to call out the 2021 book's exploration of the bourbon industry beyond Buffalo Trace. The result is a balanced account that goes down smoothly to satisfy seasoned bourbon aficionados and newbies alike.

4. The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails by Amy Zavatto

What's the best way to incorporate bourbon into your mixology mastery? A list of 100 crafty cocktail recipes is a great place to start. With "The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails," author Amy Zavatto offers a curated collection of potable potions all based on bourbon, with classic and contemporary flourishes to zhuzh things up.

Zavatto recounts the necessary factors that define bourbon as a separate spirit from whiskey. Her text includes explanations of key bartending terms to help aspiring mixologists get their feet wet. She also offers a wide array of concoctions to expand the repertoires of experience bartenders with a taste for something new. This mix of simple and sophisticated creates a blend that bourbon lovers can enjoy, even if they're just in it for the read.

Zavatto's experience with alcohol is no fluke. Her career as a beverage-based writer has included her pieces being featured in Men's Journal and Beverage Enthusiast, among other publications. She's authored several volumes celebrating drinking culture and exploring the creative side of cocktail craft. A 4.8 out of 5-star rating across more than 1,000 Amazon reviewers attests to their appreciation for the bourbon cocktail wisdom that Zavatto shares in this 2019 book.

5. Bourbon Curious: A Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker with Tasting Notes for Dozens of New Bourbons by Fred Minnick

Beverage fans who've held off on jumping into the bourbon barrel have a guide to diving in head-first with the second edition of "Bourbon Curious," which was published in 2019 (the first edition came out in 2015). This volume from award-winning author Fred Minnick provides guidance for finding the bourbon profile that suits almost every taste. Minnick explains where the flavor in bourbon arises and how to approach the tasting experience. Separate chapters focus on grain, nutmeg, caramel, and cinnamon flavors. There are also sections that explore special bottles and limited-edition releases to give each distinctive taste profile its own treatment. Readers who are new to the bourbon world in search of a definitive direction can pick their poison and tailor their own bourbon sampling experience for maximum learning and enjoyment, leaving room to acquire the taste at their speed.

As a best-selling author and connoisseur of spirit consumption, Minnick has also written books celebrating the virtues of whiskey, mead, and rum. His writings in the magazine Whisky Advocate include reviews and articles that bring the truth of smoky spirits to life, much like "Bourbon Curious" does for new fans of this classic American beverage.

6. Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last by Wright Thompson

Julian Van Winkle III, the grandson of Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr., is a larger-than-life figure in the world of distilling. Author Wright Thompson reinvigorates his story in "Pappyland" with the careful touch of a craftsman every bit as detail-oriented as Pappy was with his spirit creation. This New York Times best-selling title published in 2020 earns its 4.6 out of 5-star rating across more than 3,000 Amazon reviews by telling a compelling tale about American grit and determination. The lyrical prose weaves real-world details about the family's legacy into a near-legend of a tale that comes across as an adventure for the reader as well as the author. More than just a history of bourbon, this title is a celebration of spirit in the truest sense. Fans of both storytelling and bourbon can whet their whistle with a creatively written account of how a distilling champ became a figurehead in the bourbon world. 

Thompson brings a literary sensibility to one of bourbon's oldest stories, infusing the narrative with Southern flavor and tall-tale spirit. By blending bourbon with great storytelling, "Pappyland" takes on the dual aura of an American classic about an American classic.

7. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage by Michael R. Veach

The history of America isn't complete without a chapter about Kentucky bourbon — or, in this case, an entire book. In "Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey" Michael Veach sets out to explain why bourbon is the only American-made spirit to receive official designation from Congress as a "distinctive product" of the U.S. The history flows from the great Whiskey Rebellion in the late 1700s through Civil War and Prohibition eras to establish a permanent place behind bars throughout the world in a show of American excellence. This 2013 volume is more than just a rote revisiting of the life and times of bourbon's fabled evolution. The detailed text is peppered with historic photos and fun facts about bourbon culture, fleshing out a fascinating tale of how ingenuity and perseverance combined to create a true original in the world of spirits. 

Veach is a bourbon historian who was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in the mid-2000s. He spent 20 years gathering experience with bourbon to garner the authority needed to write this book. His straightforward prose adds an important new chapter in bourbon's life story, one intended to raise the spirits of bourbon fans everywhere.

8. The Bourbon Bartender: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the American Spirit - A Cocktail Book by Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik

No beverage base sings the praises of American character quite like bourbon. With 50 recipes that put authentic bourbon in the spotlight, "The Bourbon Bartender" is a perfect introduction to incorporating the smoky-sweet sophistication of bourbon into any bar menu. Beverage enthusiasts Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik gather a hearty selection of mixes and a list of necessary tools to help make the cocktail mixing magic go smoothly. A run-down of syrups and behind-the-bar methods to make every drink special perfectly accent the concoctions for a full guide to bourbon mixology anyone can follow. A brief yet entertaining history of the cocktail puts a bow on the whole tasty creation.

Danger is more than just a bourbon lover. She's also the former bar manager of New York City's now-closed tiki bar Mother of Pearl with years of bar culture experience. Co-author Lapushchik is a proprietor of several craft bars in the New York City area, and her work has been featured in top publications like The New York Times and Punch. Their combined admiration of cocktail artistry fills "The Bourbon Bartender" with fun energy and lively spirit.

9. Whiskey Lore's Travel Guide to Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon: Learn, Plan, Taste, Tour by Drew Hannush

Who's ready for a bourbon road trip? With "Whiskey Lore's Travel Guide to Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon," published in 2020, diehard bourbon fans have a ready manual for hitting the highway in search of the truest Kentucky bourbon experience. In addition to covering the history of America's sweetheart glass filler, author Drew Hannush explains the ins and outs of planning a distillery excursion to help aficionados get the most out of their journey. The series of distillery profiles reads like a who's who of bourbon country, with critical information included to help choose locales that suit each wanderer's taste. Readers can also learn how to prepare their palates for the tasting experience and discover what to do when forgoing a tour company in favor of taking their own unguided excursion through the bourbon distillery hinterlands.

Hannush is co-creator and one of the hosts of Whiskey Lore, a podcast dedicated to whiskey and bourbon culture. He combines his loves of travel and adult beverages into a single quest, creating both a travel and drinking guide that takes a straight-arrow approach to what can be a corkscrew of a journey.

10. American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit by Clay Risen

Reading like a phone book of America's best distilleries, the second edition of "American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye" published in 2015 is author Clay Risen's attempt to capture the best producers of bourbon in a single volume for easy reference among drink lovers. His listing covers over 330 types of whiskey, including the maker's history, bottling processes, and a profile of the flavor and proof of each make, among other details. A description of contemporary beverages sets the stage for a compendium of exciting locales for bourbon lovers to visit. The glossary of terms is helpful for ensuring no interested party will be left alone at the bar. The result is an inclusive guide that readers can study to learn about the bourbon-distilling scene and explore the distinct personality of each brand.

Aside from his fascination with distilled drinks, Risen is a history buff with titles covering the origins of Kentucky whiskey and key moments from early America. He's also a reporter for The New York Times, a fact that isn't lost on reviewers who call out the deep opinions and sense of cantankerous fun in Risen's writing in this volume.

11. The Kentucky Bourbon Experience: A Visual Tour of Kentucky's Bourbon Distilleries by Leon Howlett

Stunning photographs illuminate the bourbon experience in a way words fail to in Leon Howlett's 2012 book, "The Kentucky Bourbon Experience." Based in Kentucky, Howlett uses his exceptional eye to bring dimension to the world of barrel-aged spirits. Brands like Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve receive artful treatment as Howlett casts new light on old traditions. His visual tour provides insight into the pastoral locations and structures and pulls back the curtain on how these buildings function to produce great bourbon. Eight regal bourbon distilleries get the royal treatment as seen through the lens of a Kentuckian with a passion for visual and distilled artistry in equal measure. These visual explorations expose a lush, compelling backdrop for distilling with as much American heart as the drinks produced.

Howlett is a professional photographer who's honed his craft for more than 30 years. His artful shots capture the personality of his subjects, creating images of spaces and scenes that appear theatrical and artful, yet intimate and inviting. A sampling of the images that readers will find in "The Kentucky Bourbon Experience" are available on his website, in the gallery titled Cask Strength.

12. The Bourbon Country Cookbook: 95 Recipes and More from a Modern Kentucky Kitchen by David Danielson and Tim Laird

Keen chefs know that bourbon isn't just for the bar. When bourbons are used in the kitchen, their smoky richness and nuanced flavors add delightful complexity to recipes from barbecue to baked treats. In this 2018 book "The Bourbon Country Cookbook," authors David Danielson and Tim Laird share their favorite recipes that feature bourbon as a key ingredient. With everything from cocktails to desserts included in the book, these two bourbon specialists share a wealth of creations with distinctive Southern spirit. Whether trying bourbon recipes for the first time or adding new dishes to their lineup, chefs of all stripes can tap into this entertaining guide that celebrates the sweet and savory culinary virtues of bourbon.

With pedigree comes knowledge, and these authors have a world of both in their resumes. Danielson serves as head chef of Churchill Downs, the celebrated site of the world-famous Kentucky Derby, while Laird specializes in wine and spirits and has made multiple appearances on television to extol the virtues of fine beverages. Their combined skills create a volume that helps bourbon fans enjoy their favorite drink in new and exciting ways.