The Story Behind Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History by Mark Spivak

In Iconic Spirits, I chronicle the untold tales of a dozen spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. Some are categories and others are specific brands, but they are all amazing stories—stories that are unknown to the average person.

The inspiration came one day when I was thinking about Campari, about how bitter it is and how unpleasant it is to some consumers (myself included), despite the fact that millions of cases are sold each year. I did some reading about the physiology of taste, and realized that the taste receptors on our tongues function as an early-warning system that we’re about to drink something toxic or poisonous. Your brain is telling you, “Don’t drink this—it might kill you,” and yet Campari is considered to be one of the sexiest things on earth. The more I looked into other spirits, I found the same kinds of compelling stories.

This book sold in record time. I had a terrific agent, which obviously helped, and she sold the proposal in less than four weeks. I was stunned. For years, I had been unsuccessfully trying to achieve the same result with other projects, but apparently this time I had an idea that resonated with a large chunk of the population. Unfortunately, writers are not always the best judges of whether or not this is the case. The realities of the publishing world—and the broad commercial market—frequently run counter to our fantasies.

The editing process was almost as smooth. I was fortunate to have a series of professional, competent and sensible editors. Even with that, the reality of the publishing world today is that writers have to do most of the heavy lifting in selling their book to the public. You will have a publicist assigned to you from the publishing house, but that person will frequently be overworked and unable to devote as much time to your project as both of you would wish—even if she loves your book.

Aware that I had a steep learning curve on marketing and promotion, I started 8-9 months ahead of publication day. The first thing I did was take an online course in book promotion, which was incredible helpful. I spoke to everyone I knew who had been through the process, and listened carefully to their insights. I set up a website for the book, started writing a blog, and used my strong Facebook presence to solicit followers. I developed a personal database of about 3,000 email addresses, and sent them periodic updates about the book.

Ultimately, since my budget was limited, I decided to focus on promotional efforts that were low in cost and high in potential reward. I plan on doing a great deal of radio. I have three blog tours planned—the publisher is doing one, I’m doing another and I’m paying for a third. I’m setting up a series of signings and promotional events, in my local area and elsewhere.

My goal is not to get rich or have my 15 minutes of fame, but rather to have the opportunity to wake up in the morning and do the work I want to do. If I don’t get there, it won’t be for lack of trying.


Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the restaurant critic for Palm Beach Illustrated. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Ritz-Carlton, Continental, Art & Antiques, Newsmax, Dream of Italy and Arizona Highways. From 1999-2011 he hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.

Mark began writing Iconic Spirits after becoming fascinated with the untold stories behind the world’s greatest liquors. As a writer, he’s always searching for the unknown details that make his subjects compelling and unique.His latest book is Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History.

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