A Moveable Feast
Books and alcohol have been bedfellows for centuries. Many readers love to curl up with a good book and a drop of their favorite tipple. But what are the finest pairings of literature and beer, or wine or liquor?
It would be great to match Douglas Adams’ Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, a cocktail of galactic power, with a challenging read like Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, but that’s never going to happen.
There is a bevy of drinks that are ideal companions for books, and many brewers and winemakers have been inspired by literary culture. There’s Hercule Stout, a Belgian beer, featuring the mustachioed face of Agatha Christie’s detective on the label. The Thomas Hardy Ale, brewed by Eldridge Pope until 2009, has almost mythical status among real ale aficionados. And we’d love to sample the wonderfully named Grains of Wrath Double IPA produced by the Ontario microbrewery of Church-Key.
This list is designed to wet your whistle and boost your bookshelf. But please remember to drink responsibly (and we are kidding about absinthe).
Cocktail Recipe: The AbeBooks True Thirst Edition › Play Video
Last Bus to Woodstock
by Colin Dexter
Drink: Hobgoblin Bitter
Oxford’s most famous sleuth is Inspector Morse, known for collecting his thoughts in the pub. Morse poured scorn on lagers and soft drinks, and those who drank them, and he’d enjoy a pint of Hobgoblin – a strong bitter brewed in nearby Witney.
Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram
Drink: Glenfiddich Havana Reserve
Scottish novelist Iain Banks – famous for The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road and lots of science fiction - loves whisky. Raw Spirit is his 2003 travelogue of touring Scotland’s distilleries. A dram of Glenfiddich Havana Reserve appealed to Banks.
Judgment of Paris
by George M Taber
Drink: Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay
The blind Paris tasting of 1976, judged by a panel of French wine experts, is one of the greatest events in wine history. California’s finest beat France’s finest and shook up the wine world. This book tells the story of Steven Spurrier and his tasting.
Diamonds are Forever
by Ian Fleming
Drink: Vodka martini, shaken, not stirred
How could we not feature a James Bond book on this list? This famous phrase first appeared in Diamonds are Forever in 1956. The 007 movies turned the phrase into the one of the most quotable lines in cinematic history.
The Hotel New Hampshire
by John Irving
Drink: Ottakringer Gold Fassl
One of the reoccurring themes in Irving’s novels is Vienna, which features in this coming of age story and an oddball New Hampshire family. Ottakringer Gold Fassl, a light pilsner, is one of the most famous of Viennese beers and would appeal to an Irving character.
by Dorothy L. Sayers
Drink: Anything from Château Lafite Rothschild
Sayers’ posh sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey enjoyed the finer things in life and that included good wine. A classic red from Château Lafite Rothschild (perhaps out of our price range), one of the most famous producers of Bordeaux, would be his cup of tea.
The Far Pavilions
by M.M. Kaye
Drink: Gin and Tonic
Kaye’s epic novel of British colonialism in India describes the adventures of Ashton Pelham-Martyn and is a fine example of complex storytelling. Gin and tonic was invented by the British in India as a refreshing method of passing time at the club.
Knots & Crosses
by Ian Rankin
Drink: A pint of Deuchars IPA & a glass of Johnny Walker
Coming from a tough Scottish housing estate, Inspector John Rebus is a hard drinking man and takes a pint and a whisky at the same time. The Deuchars IPA was temporarily rebranded as Rebus’ favorite pint a few years ago.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
by Laurie Lee
Drink: ‘fabrica de cerveza’ – a lager brewed by the bar itself
Cider with Rosie is too obvious so we’re going for the second book in Lee’s trilogy where he walks to London and then goes onto Spain as the civil war looms. He vividly describes tumbling out of Madrid’s bars in one of the greatest of all memoirs.
The Mauritius Command
by Patrick O'Brian
Drink: A naval ration of grog (that’s watered down rum)
O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels are set during the Napoleonic Wars - the protagonists are a Royal Navy captain and his ship’s surgeon. The Royal Navy issued a daily ration of rum to its sailors from 1855 until 1970. The expression ‘sea legs’ has nothing to do with grog.
The Red Room
by August Strindberg
OK, so absinthe makes you go blind and crazy, but if it’s good enough for Napoleon and Bohemian novelists like Sweden’s August Strindberg then it might be worth a go. A satire on life in Stockholm, The Red Room shows hypocrisy is always just around the corner.
The Morning Watch
by James Agee
Drink: Whiskey Sour
Agee died at 45 and whiskey sour was his preferred poison. The Morning Watch is lesser known, when compared to A Death in the Family, and is semi-autobiographical. It’s a story of adolescent crisis based on the author’s experiences in rural Tennessee.
Man O' War
by Walter Farley
Drink: Mint Julep
Mint Julep is the drink of choice at the Kentucky Derby and Man O’ War was one of America’s greatest racehorses, winning 20 of 21 races. Farley’s biography verges into fiction but sheds light on the achievements of this famous Kentucky-born horse.
by Matthew Kneale
Drink: XXX Ale
You can only get Boag’s XXX Ale in Tasmania where much of Kneale’s wonderful but complex novel is based. Boag’s was formed in 1883. The action in English Passengers takes place slightly earlier and features smugglers, convicts, bureaucrats, vicars and aboriginals.
The Queen's Fool
by Philippa Gregory
Drink: Bloody Mary
Catholic Queen Mary became known as Bloody Mary because of her relentless persecution of Protestants. She loved a good burning. Gregory’s novel looks at Mary and her more famous half-sister Elizabeth I and is a sympathetic account of a brutal queen.
The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts
by Louis de Bernières
Drink: Pisco Sour
Pisco sours originate from Chile and/or Peru. This novel is the first in de Bernières’ Latin American trilogy of chaos and political corruption. It parodies the worst excesses of South American dictatorships – the storyline veers frequently into violence as ordinary folks struggle on.
by John McGahern
Drink: Irish Stout
This is a tough novel about an IRA veteran and his family. It’s McGahern’s best known work and a modern masterpiece. You’ll need several pints of stout to stomach the main character’s brutal tyranny of his wife and children.
by Clarence Nero
Another grueling novel that reminds us New Orleans is a tough city where violence, drugs and poverty fill the housing projects while the tourists enjoy Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. But remember Bourbon Street was named after France’s House of Bourbon and not the drink.
The Colour of A Dog Running Away
by Richard Gwyn
An excellent novel set in Barcelona written by a Welshman. Lucas, a musician living in the Gothic Quarter, embarks on a passionate love affair with Nuri, and they become mixed up with a religious sect. Sangria will put you in the mood for the Spanish setting.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
Drink: Oscar Wilde mild (brewed by Mighty Oak Brewing Company in Maldon, Essex)
The idea of Oscar Wilde drinking mild (traditionally a working class drink) is highly amusing but this beer, rather like Dorian Gray, is no ordinary tipple – it was the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain 2011 at CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
Drink: Ichabod Pumpkin Ale from the New Holland Brewery
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow remains one of the great short stories ever written. Washed down with a drop of pumpkin ale on a chilly winter evening, this story becomes even more chilling. How does that headless horseman see where he is going?
by Walt Whitman
Drink: Drink Walt Wit (brewed by the Philadelphia Brewing Company)
Walt Wit is a Belgian-style white ale. More irony – Whitman supported temperance despite having the sort of mammoth beard usually sported by real ale drinkers. Specimen Days offers diaries, notes and essays dealing with Whitman's ancestry, boyhood and Civil War experiences.
The Long Goodbye
by Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye popularized the drink so nothing else can really accompany this classic example of hard-boiled detective fiction. Chandler’s drunk, Terry Lennox, insisted a true Gimlet is half gin and half lime juice. Sadly, Chandler struggled with alcohol addiction.
This Sweet Sickness
by Patricia Highsmith
Drink: Brandy Alexander
Highsmith is the mistress of psychological thrillers where people are not what they seem and there is usually a knock-out punch at the end. This Sweet Sickness is a story of obsession and brandy alexander has the type of kick required to match Highsmith’s twists and turns.