5 Creative Cocktails Based on Books

The mixologist behind a D.C. bar’s “Literary Cocktails” series shares some of her favorite literature-inspired drinks

Since mid-October of 2015, I’ve been concocting and serving weekly Literary Cocktails at the Reading Room of the Petworth Citizen in Washington, D.C. The Reading Room is a functional lending library in the back of the Petworth Citizen, a neighborhood bar. All books on the shelves are donated, and they can all be borrowed free of charge. In October of 2015, we decided to build a bar in the room in large part so that I could host this cocktail program.

The Literary Cocktails menu is only available on Fridays and Saturdays and is new every Friday. During the week, I read the books, poetry, lyrics, short stories, essays, etc. on which that week’s drinks will be based, and then craft a cocktail menu inspired by my reading. The project has evolved over these past two and a half years; when I started, I often paid homage to a writer’s entire oeuvre (P.G. Wodehouse night, for instance), but now I typically focus on reading just one book a week and name the drinks after quotes from my reading.

The menu is like writing an essay in cocktail form, using themes and recipes from all over.

Since I’m a bartender and mixologist by trade, my book-inspired drinks are often riffs on classic cocktails. I combine the classic and historic recipes and ingredients I love with anything I subjectively relate to while reading. Often, specific spirits or drinks are mentioned in the reading, in which case I will use them. I will also incorporate the mention of flavors of other foods and beverages. I’ll take into account the setting, geography, and timeline of the story and build from drinks or ingredients from that as well. I rely on my catalog (from experience) and the possibility of new ideas coming from ideas and passages.

The menu is like writing an essay in cocktail form, using themes and recipes from all over. Sometimes a story about the history of a particular cocktail will relate or pair well with a particular passage. The drinks are designed as “one-offs” because the menu changes every week, but they’re also endless riffs — the same way a whole body of literature can arise from riffs on 36 dramatic situations. Also, I light a lot of drinks on fire. It comes up a lot in reading.

Here are some recipes and their corresponding books.

The Story of the King’s Lettuce

Inspired by Watership Down by Richard Adams

Build in a Collins or Absinthe glass:

1 oz. Pimm’s №1, 1 oz. Aquavit, .5 oz. Oloroso sherry, .5 oz. fresh lemon, 1 oz. Dandelion tea. Add cracked ice and garnish with a leaf of lettuce, a dill flower, and a strawberry. Serve with reusable or biodegradable straw.

This drink is a riff on the classic Pimm’s Cup.

“…mokita. It means, ‘A truth everybody knows but nobody speaks’”

Inspired by the Griffin & Sabine series (vol. 5) by Nick Bantock

In Moroccan tea glass, muddle 2 wedges of lime, then add .25 oz. raw ginger juice, 2.5 oz. 10 yr. Old Sercial Madeira, and cracked ice. Stir lightly. Garnish with fresh mint.

This drink is a mojito riff made with Madeira and ginger instead of rum.

“You and your fireballs and your demon hipster chicks”

Inspired by the Scott Pilgrim series (vol.1) by Bryan K. O’Malley

Build in coconut mug:

.75 oz. Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc, .75 oz. Thomas Tew’s Dark Rum, .5 oz. curried simple syrup, 1 oz. coconut milk, 1 oz. pineapple juice. Fill with crushed ice, set dried lime shell and fill with overproof rum and nutmeg, light on fire.

This drink is a spiced riff on piña colada.


Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novel

Served in chilled coupe. Stir:

.5 oz. Mt. Defiance cassis, 1 oz. Earl Grey “Moonlight” tea Top with 3 oz. Chilled Champagne. Express lemon oil, then float dried half of lemon shell sprinkled with osmanthus leaves and one star anise clove doused in overproof rum. Serve on fire.

This drink is a highly unconventional riff on a Kir Royale.

“I am alive,” Paul wrote to his mother, “but alive inside a ghost.” (P.217)

Inspired by The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek

Served in a chilled coupe, shaken & double-strained:

.5 oz. Jensen’s Gin, .5 oz. Slivovitz, .75 oz. Cocchi Americano, .5 oz. Cointreau, 2 dashes Absinthe, .75 oz. fresh lemon. Garnish with dried citrus and Luxardo cherry.

This drink is a riff on a Corpse Reviver №2.

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