Books by alcoholics (the Fitzgeralds come to mind, obviously), books about alcoholics (sometimes by alcoholics), books about drinks, how to make drinks and why we like drinking. So many options! But what I really wanted to find was literary non-fiction about the culture of alcohol, its production and its place in our lives.
The occasion which got me thinking about all of this is BC Distilled, a festival of BC's craft and micro-distilleries. While I've visited one or two, like Odd Society in East Vancouver, most of the producers who will be involved are new to me and I'm excited to taste whatever crazy offerings they might have (bring on the limoncello, the potato vodka, the rosemary and olive gin). Unlike the beer and wine festivals which happen around Vancouver, Canada and the world, BC Distilled is an opportunity to try whole categories I would probably miss otherwise and to think about the fascinating history of spirits and hard liquor. The main event happens March 26th, 2016 at the Croatian Cultural Centre and I will report on what I find.
I was unable to uncover many literary options - I was thinking a non-fiction Sideways about whisky set in Scotland with hilarious hi-jinks and personal discovery. I know there must be books like this out there so if you've read a good one please let me know. I should probably get my hands on Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by Iain Banks but I haven't a copy yet.
Instead I found a few good gustatorial offerings. A Field Guide to Canadian Cocktails (Appetite) by Victoria Walsh and Scott McCallum is as gorgeous as a food or drink book should be. And it's an appealing concept - innovative cocktails inspired by regional distilleries and local ingredients. In the short introductions to each region of Canada, the duo discuss the high points of their adventures, often surprised by the depth and sophistication of the local scene. Saskatoon Julep, Fiddlehead Martini, yes please! For the casual drinker, though, these imaginative cocktails are a bit impractical. Not only do I not have a lot of edible flowers or infused tequilas around the house (and I am someone who has made my own bitters), I am probably not going to whip up a rhubarb and peppercorn syrup, all for one drink. But I would collaborate on a Canadian cocktail party where everyone brigs a local spirit and a few oddball items to approximate some of these amazing concoctions with or without the ornate garnishes. Without some of those extras, many of these cocktails are well within reach and pursuing them is a a good excuse to purchase a local Saskatoon berry liqueur or pine-infused whisky.
The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook by David Ort (Whitecap) is perhaps more practical (something I never thought I would say). From pantry ideas like IPA mustard, to food pairings to robust recipe ideas like risotto and gingerbread. There is a lot more content than just the recipes and Ort approaches beer from a fresh perspective. I want to try those pickled hops...
I love the patriotism of Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux (McClelland & Stewart) , which suggests that the history of Canadian whisky mirrors that of the nation (creative use of available materials). De Kergommeaux gives time to both the technical and cultural angles before spending much of the book on particular distilleries (including tasting notes and history). He also answered many questions I had about yeasts and about choice of grain. A few years ago I visited Glenmorangie distillery in Scotland and was surprised to find myself asking a lot of nerdy questions like what would happen if you used oats instead of barley. Our guide assured me that would be ridiculous but it turns out many other grains have been tried and used in Canada.
While it's easy to find books with alcoholic characters or books about writers with drinking problems, it is harder to find stories about how much fun a few drinks can be. Now there are at least a few new titles which focus on fun - specifically taste - and which consider alcohol and its uses as a creative activity in its own right. Here is a toast to the search for a perfect bouquet (can you say that about gin?).