Moac and Em are blessed with some very good friends; the sort who buy you really good books that they know you’ll enjoy.
Over the holidays I’ve been lucky to have friends who care for me and want to help me on my quest to build a good library of drinking books.
I’ve already mentioned, several times, the excellent Martini: A memoir, by the Australian writer Frank Moorhouse. His stories of martini-drinking and avoidance of the dreaded crazy drinks are a real pleasure.
I haven’t mentioned so often the great little book about whisky, Raw Spirit, by Scottish writer Ian M Banks. Banksy is usually known for his sci-fi, or humorous and fantastic novels, but his whisky book is a good read and a handy primer on some of the finer single malts available to the serious tippler.
Raw Spirit is as much a travel story as it is a serious guide to drinking good Scotch. Banks and his fellow-travelers move around the various distilling areas of Scotland in search of the perfect dram. They have fun doing it too.
But this summer my reading has been a little more eclectic courtesy of Kingsley Amis and Victoria Moore.
Amis is well known to most adults who’ve ever read a book in English. He was a British novelist and essayist of some note and one of his most treasured pass-times was sharing a glass with pals. Amis wasn’t a fussy drinker. He pretty much would drink anything, but he hated stingey hosts with a passion.
In 2008 three of his less famous texts on drinking were published together for the first time in one volume: Everyday drinking: The distilled Kingsley Amis. What I like about this book is that it is unpretentious. It’s not all about the most expensive French wines, or the finest Cognacs (though they do get a mention).
This is a book about everyday drinking: the sort we like to do with friends on a Friday after work, or on a weekend. In daylight hours, during the evening, late at night and into the early hours of the following day.
But of course, I’m not advocating binge drinking. Let’s remember, it’s not what you drink, but how you drink that counts.
Amis is advocating educated drinking, without it becoming a form of one-upmanship. Though his tips for how to shill your guests if they overstay their welcome is priceless.
The other great part of this book is the recipes, most of which are not available in modern cocktail books. One that I tried a few times over the Xmas period – with a dozen Clevedon oysters – was Black Velvet. This is a heady combination of champagne and stout. Delicious, refreshing and so, so good with ice-cold oysters on a warm summer evening.
I’ve never been one for self-help books, but Victoria Moore’s How to Drink, was on my Christmas list (thanks Moac) and I’ve really enjoyed it. How to Drink is an updated version of Amis for the noughties. It has recipes too, but the main difference is that it also has sections on coffee, tea and soft drinks. It’s not a soak’s progress, it’s a serious (well, semi-serious) guide to modern drinking etiquette and some historical stuff about gin, brandy, various teas and coffee blends and the all important Armagnac V. Cognac debate.
I don’t have a position on that yet, but I bought a bottle of armagnac this weekend and I’m sure I’ll be comparing notes with Ms Moore soon enough.
Just so you know how things have changed since Kingsley Amis wrote the material that has been collected in Everyday Drinking. If you want to keep up with Victoria Moore, you can join her Facebook page, or follow her blog at The Guardian.
Mr Amis would be growling into his porter, right about now…punk, soul brother, but that’s for later.
Tonight I’m having an Empire State of mind.