Holly Graham on how she wrote her first cocktail book, Cocktails of Asia

Have you ever wondered how to write a cocktail book? Holly Graham has just published hers — here’s her advice.

Holly Graham on how she wrote her first cocktail book, Cocktails of Asia

You can listen to this episode in the player above, or take a listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and on Android.

If you’ve ever wanted to write about drinks and bars and bartenders, or wanted to publish a cocktail book, this week’s instalment of the Drinks At Work podcast is for you.

Holly Graham is the managing editor for DRiNK Magazine in Hong Kong, and her role sends her all across Asia to write about bars, bartenders and booze. She’s also an academy chair for The World’s 50 Best Bars, and just published her very first book, Cocktails of Asia.

Holly was also just this week named at number 7 on Drinks International’s Bar 100, a list of the global bar world’s most influential figures, so our chat couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the episode, Holly talks about how she came to be a drinks and bars writer; how she not only came up with the idea for her book, but what’s involved in pulling it together, getting it out there, and promoting it. She also talks about whether or not it’s wise to expect to make any money from writing a book (spoiler alert: it’s likely not). Holly also shares her advice for anyone wanting to get into writing, and why a passion for your subject is so important.

So do give the episode a listen — I thoroughly enjoyed the chat. Speaking of Asia, I’m flying to Singapore this weekend for a few nights, and I’d welcome any suggestions of bars to visit, drinks to drink and food to eat. And if you happen to be in town on the night of Monday July 4th, I’ll be making drinks — yes, on the working side of the bar for a change — at the legendary 28 Hongkong Street. I’ll be slinging Daiquiris, and serving a few of my favourite cocktails from some of the city’s best bars — I’d love to see you there.

Okay, below I’ve got a trio of my favourite highlights from the chat with Holly Graham, but again — do give the full episode a listen, it’s a good one.

Holly Graham is the author of the new book, Cocktails of Asia. 

Can you make money writing a book?

The short answer, as Holly points out, is a big, fat, "no." Whilst Holly will make some cash — she’s sold a couple hundred-odd copies of the book already — she says it’s not a profit-driven exercise.

Instead, Holly says that she wrote the book because it was the next logical step. I think she might be a little modest here — I suspect that at least part of the reason why she wrote the book is that this book, Cocktails of Asia, could only have been written by her.

The book looks at some of the region’s best cocktails and bars and bartenders, and is brought together with stories from Holly of her time in those bars drinking those drinks — she’s there to tell you why these drinks and bars matter to her. It's her experiences and her view on the world; no doubt other writers would take to the task in their own way, too.

Which is what I think is the most important thing when it comes to writing a book or embarking on any kind of writing endeavour: you have to ask yourself the question, what can I write that is uniquely mine?

No-one today needs another Lonely Planet or Frommer’s or a cocktail book written from nowhere in particular. But the world is better off with books like Holly’s, written from a point of view, and written with passion and deep understanding.

Holly Graham. Photo: Supplied
Holly Graham. Photo: Supplied

“I had to work a long bloody time to get here.”

Yes, Holly is flying high right now, with a book under her belt, international recognition for her work, and a great role that many envy. But she didn’t luck into the life she leads — she’s worked a long time to get there.

I think Holly is proof that everything you do in your 20s sets you up for the next act in your 30s, and good things can happen to people who put the work in consistently over time. For every overnight success, there’s dozens more who work at it, say yes to opportunities when they come, and keep working away at things piece by piece.

“It wasn't until my 30s that I found my true calling,” Holly says.

“I don’t think it’s something that can be taught.”

Who is suited to a job writing about bars and drinks and bartenders? Holly doesn’t think it’s for everyone — for a start, she thinks you need to have a strong foundation in writing to begin with.

I'd agree with that to some extent — although I won't say you've got to like writing (typing is something that I've never liked and will put off as long as I can), you do need to like language and enjoy thinking about words. For people like Holly (and I guess me, too) it helps to have been alright at English in school.

But if you do have that familiarity with writing, then previous experience in hospitality can help — Holly herself began writing about drinks before she took the dive into working behind the bar — because you want to be passionate about your subject. And if you’re going to be writing about the bar industry, it helps to actually like the people who are in it.

“You have to be sociable,” Holly says. You have to be curious, unafraid to ask questions, and always be on the lookout for an interesting story.