Books and Booze – the Ultimate Paring.
Top Shelf Books
Certain drinks are paired rather magnificently with food. Think Bordeaux with blood rare beef or a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with oysters on the half shell. Or perhaps a lager like Samuel Adams with fish tacos. How about ice cold vodka with smoked salmon and pickles? It's getting close to Christmas, so here are some great ideas for the perfect gift – a thrilling piece of literature paired with a tantalizing bottle of libation (wrap as you please) and testing before giving, greatly encouraged – Cheers! Salute! Santé! Sláinte! Skål!
The Girl with/who novels, Steig Larsson – Although there’s not much drinking in the books (more shopping at IKEA and running away from very nasty people), the young heroine, Lisbeth, might stop for a few moments in between hacking computer networks and tattooing obscene gestures across a sexual predator’s chest and have a couple of drinks. The books are very hard to put down, so the reader also needs to stay awake until the blood shot hours of the morning. So for this selection (and package the whole series together because like last call shooters once you start, you can’t stop) go with a six pack of Red Bull or any high powered energy drink and Vodka – ice cold. Put it in the freezer before you hand it out as a gift. And let’s go with the Swedish spirit of choice Absoult – pick your flavour perhaps pepper (spray) or lemon.
Dubliners, James Joyce – One of the best short story collections ever. Dublin comes alive – good and bad. You can smell the Christmas Goose in the “Dead” or the musty old room in “The Sisters.” The drink? So many great Irish beers to choose from. Throw a copy of the book in with a six pack of Guinness, Kilkenny or Caffery’s, but be careful Guinesss is a Protestant beer and might offend some Catholics, but this not a concern for Joyce. Also try Smithwicks or Harp. (And if you want a more recent novel Anne Enright’s “The Gathering” would pair very nice as well.). Also try a nice shot of Irish Whisky like Bushmills 10-Year-Old Single-Malt or some Michael Collins to go with the creamy Irish Ales.
The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch – Lovely story about a man who tries to isolate himself on the English coast, but gets ravaged by guests from his past. Wonderful book, you can taste the sea and feel the wine. In the book Charles loves his Spanish Rioja – Marques de Rioja is a great bargain or Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza or DON Tempranillo (although not a Riojas – a very nice Spanish wine). He also has a few episodes with whisky, but since the novel was written in the seventies, well before the “single malt” craze, the poor bastard probably had to drink Johnny Walker red label or J and B. However you don’t. See Rebus below.
Any Rebus novel (see reading list), Ian Rankin – The great Scottish police constable Rebus loves his drink. Think of those dark rainy Scottish nights, ducking into the the local pub for a dark creamy pint and a whisky just to warm the dampness from your bones. The constant inclement weather in the novels makes winter the perfect season to read Rebus because it’s also Scotch season. And unlike poor Charles, Rebus drinks the good stuff – single malt scotch. For scotch, the choice is endless, but try Balvenie – Double Wood 12 yr. or the Signature. They are great bargains. Also any Macllan is wonderfully soothing although the higher the age, the higher the price. If you want a bolder scotch try Lagavulin 16 or Talisker 10.
Disgrace, The Life and Times of Michael K, J.M. Coetzee – These two novels take place in the great wine producing regions of South Africa – Paarl, Worchester and Stellenbosch, but during apartheid. Both novels give you a sense of what the Cape Town area was like before wine. Try the Stellenbosch Cabernet or Stark-Condé Syrah or a Ken Forrester Cape Breeze Chenin Blanc. Beach House, a Sauvignon/Semillion blend, is a great deal for under 15 bucks. Or go bubbly with a Graham Beck Brute.
The Sea, John Banville – Another Irish novel, so keep up with the pints, but Max loves his brandy – so much that he passes out on the beach and nearly drowns. Careful. A Martell or Hennessy Cognac would go pleasantly with the novel.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac – the cheapest California red you can find. The key here is quantity, not quality, so a nice box of wine would work well. If you don’t have a headache the next day, your not getting a full blast of the classic American novel. However, the California wine industry has improved enourmously since the days of Jack, so no use in getting an ugly headache from drinking cheap wine. The choice of great wine is endless, but a nice Zinfindel like Ravenswood or a Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Blackstone Syrah from Sonoma County or Hahn Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast would go great with the novel, but it must be red. The beat boys sipping a glass of Chard, don’t think so.
Some other notables …
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy – Vodka, of course, ice cold out of shot glasses. Should be served with a large portion of cold fish. Try a Grey Goose or Iceberg a wonderful spirit from Canada.
Fall on your Knees, Anne Marie MacDonald – Moonshine, of course. Her father was a bootlegger, so try some good Rum like 1 Barrel (Belize,dark rum) or Mount Gay Special Reserve (Barbados,white rum).
From Charles Dickens … I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
And to all a great Christmas and good holiday cheer all the year.
First published on The Center for Fiction.