The book, or the bottle? That’s the question that arises when considering holiday gift books for partakers of particular potables. All sorts of spirits are the subject of increasingly elaborate tomes arranged by region, style, historical influence and even literary reference. And inevitably we wonder: Would our friends rather have the potion than the prescription? (And isn’t a coffee table book about whiskey a contradiction in terms?)
Nevertheless, here are a handful of offerings, from savvy to showy and pert to practical. As to bottle vs. book, we recommend giving both: With luck, your friends may share.
SUDS AND STEMS
Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont each have a number of previous books under their belts, and their latest, The World Atlas of Beer, is an unusually successful hybrid of travelogue and catalogue. Styles of beers (ales, porters, stouts, et al.) and their brewing are explained in detail but not exhaustively; brewery maps of regions around the world spotlight prime examples of styles; and a fairly remarkable number of beers are profiled and taste-tested. Though you may have to travel (or live in a very metropolitan importing area) to taste many of these brews, the book includes tips for travelers about local mores in each beer’s region of origin. There’s also a succinct list of food-to-beer matches, from hamburgers and IPA to foie gras and golden ale.
Wines of the Southern Hemisphere by “World Wine Guys” and journalists Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, covers New World wines by country and region, major varietals and producers. While most wine drinkers will be generally familiar with the wines of Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, the chapters on Chile, Brazil and Uruguay might spark a treasure hunt at the wine store. (As with beers, availability could be problematic.) The book occasionally falls into the TV talk show “we had lunch with” trap, but the tasting notes, though vintage-specific, are very good.
Whiskey Opus, a catalogue of the “world’s greatest distilleries” by longtime spirits writers Gavin D. Smith and Dominic Roskrow, devotes 120 of its pages to the whiskys of Scotland (which, despite that country’s preference, are referred to by the authors as “whiskeys”). But as the brown-spirits market in the United States continues to expand, and bars offer more small-batch and cult labels, it can be fun to discover (before your other friends) how many countries around the world—Pakistan, India, Taiwan, Lichtenstein, etc.—produce fine versions. The histories are occasionally over-detailed, but the tasting notes are good, and of course, as with most DK titles, the visuals are excellent: With its comprehensive photo collection of bottles and labels, this book almost demands a ready-for-framing ad poster.
To those of the retro (rather than neo) cocktail generation, Lesley M.M. Blume’s Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition offers a mix of anecdotes, speculations, wordplay and recipes. Subtitled “A Compendium of Impish, Romantic, Amusing, and Occasionally Appalling Potations from Bygone Eras,” and decorated with Edwardian typography and the odd woodcut, it seems a sure bet to resurrect the grenadine industry. Blume sometimes gets so involved in the decorative bits that she shorts the useful stuff (several recipes refer to French and Italian vermouths, older terminology which may be confusing to amateur mixmasters); but there is humor of all degrees of subtlety, so it’s an easy pick-me-up.
There’s even a treat for the teetotalers on your list: The Artisan Soda Workshop, a cheery little paperback that aims to turn your seltzer bottle into an old-fashioned soda fountain (and health bar—no high fructose corn syrup or preservatives here). Although the 75 recipes require a little effort (boiling and straining, mostly), author Andrea Lynn has come close to reproducing many old standards, such as Coke and Dr. Pepper, cream sodas, root beer and cherry cokes, while also creating some lovely herb and fruit concentrates and seasonally flavored fizzes and tonics—all of which could, of course, easily be topped off with a little alcohol.
Recipes from Let's Bring Back and The Artisan Soda Workshop can be found on our blog.