To see out the month of January (whether it's been wet or dry, for you), Tony Sylvester assembles a motley band of writers to contribute their favourite writing on the subject of booze.
Illustrations by Wes Robinson.
The past twelve months have been undeniably aberrant, not to mention abhorrent, but the turning of the calendar will always remain a moment for reflection and consideration, especially where one’s health and habits are concerned.
Whether it's been a ‘wet’ or a ‘dry’ January – or perhaps you're even considering a starker long term choice where consumption is concerned – we felt it might be prudent to elicit some expert advice on the matter, asking some of our favourite cultural writers to wade in with their choice musings on the grape and the grain. From the celebratory to the cautionary, what use are resolutions without research?
Author of Men And Style, Men And Manners, and the upcoming The Optimist: A Case For The Fly Fishing Life
A good book on drinking requires broad expertise, keen perspective and a utilitarian spirit. The broad scope of the subject is almost unrivalled—you want recipes that allow you to follow along from your home bar and a sharp point of view about what it all means. In Everyday Drinking Kingsley Amis leaves no bottle unturned in this incredible volume, that hails from a heroic era of drinking (for better or worse).
There are instructions, principles and an examination of the vital difference between a physical and metaphysical hangover (largely to do with the amount of self-pity involved). This is an acidic book: Amis advocates for a private refrigerator for your own cocktail needs, and keep it locked or you’ll never have what you want when you need it. There are theories on Bloody Marys, dealing with relatives, serving punch at parties and whether or not you need more ice trays (you do).
Amis writes about a different time. He believed playing music in pubs was the beginning of their downfall (possibly true). But you are not going to learn about natural wines, anything biodynamic or developments of recent decades. But that’s alright, in most cases he discusses enduring principles, including his description of a milk punch that should be taken “upon waking, in lieu of breakfast”—that’s the spirit!
Creative Director of Berry Bros & Rudd
For anyone looking to take their hooch seriously, I would highly recommend scouring second-hand book shops for dog eared copies of The Compleat Imbiber. Edited with loving care by the renowned British wine writer, Cyril Ray, the Imbiber was a series of spirited anthologies published from 1956 until the early 1970s. Featuring such literary sages as Kingsley Amis, John Betjeman, Iris Murdoch and Laurie Lee, these wonderfully ramshackle compendiums were intended for cultivated readers who appreciated the finer things in life.
Wine and spirits take centre stage against a backdrop of travel, art and philosophy; all supported by the most wonderfully evocative and amusing illustrations. Ray himself described the collective musings as follows: “Here […] we have the whole cream of the literary world of today bringing original thought to one of the vital pleasures of living. The art of intelligent drinking has occupied many books, most of them ephemeral, for vintage, like beauty, fades. But wine remembered is immortal.” I could not have put it better myself.
Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Adams
Author of I Am Dandy, We Are Dandy, and the forthcoming biography of Charles ‘Champagne Charlie’ Heidsieck
The first time I met Christopher Hitchens he was drinking whiskey. Ditto every other time I saw him, although it may have been wine once. He was, putting it mildly, a fan of what he called “the grape and the grain.” As the author of dozens of books as well as weekly and monthly columns, Hitch was also the Platonic ideal of the high functioning alcoholic. He was said to be an inspiration for Tom Wolfe’s boozy brit journo Peter Fallow in “Bonfire of the Vanities,” but both men denied it.
Booze was both fuel and lubricant to Hitch. As he put it: “Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.” He was discriminating in his taste without being a snob: something as mainstream as Johnny Walker Black was good enough for him (and, according to him, secretly good enough for the Pakistani military leadership.)
Like the best writers on the topic of alcohol, Hitch spent less time telling us what to drink rather than how to drink. In the midst of the Iraq War he took a break from alienating his left wing friends in order to alienate restaurant workers by devoting an entire one of his Slate columns to the proposition that diners should insist on pouring their own wine so waiters don’t interrupt conversation.
Hitch was a man famous for his often controversial opinions and the skill in which he defended them. He once said that the four most overrated things in life were champagne, picnics, lobster, and anal sex. At Hitchens’ memorial service, Stephen Fry, taking advantage of the fact that there could be no witty reply this time, said “three out of four ain’t bad.”