Reading and boozing

I’ve been sent a lot of books about booze this year so I thought it would be fun to drink as much as I could and then read them. Here are my thoughts:

The Champagne Guide 2014/2015 – Tyson Stelzer

There are many things to like about this book: the author sounds like a character from Money by Martin Amis; it looks beautiful with its understated art deco cover; but most of all Stelzer clearly knows a terrifying amount about champagne. I imagine he thinks of little else. My only quibble with this book is that you will think twice before buying another bottle because it reveals a shocking lack of consistency in this very expensive wine. Not only do bottles from the same producer with the same label vary wildly in age and quality but a large minority will actually be flawed.  If Stelzer is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt him, then there could be disaster on the horizon for champagne. Once it loses the sheen of quality, then champagne could go the way of sherry with collapsing sales and prices. His solution seems to be to drink Bollinger, which is fine by me. Oh sorry one more quibble, at one point he refers to ‘the Queen of England.’ As an Australian he really should know better.

500 Wines for 100 Occasions – David Williams

I think the author struggled to think up 100 occasions so along with the classics, 50th birthdays, weddings and Valentine’s Day, there are others that are a little over-specific such as wine to go with a difficult neighbour, wine to drink on a cruise and what to drink when your colleagues come over. They reminded me of that Fry & Laurie sketch with the condolence cards: ‘I’m right sorry to learn yer, that’s you’ve succumbed to another nasty hernia.’ Still Williams is a good writer and his recommendations are hard to disagree with.

Complete Wine Selector – Katherine Cole

Every year, someone produces a book like this that attempts to sum up wine for beginners. This one succeeds better than most. It’s clearly laid out, simply written and does a good job of demystifying the subject. It’s not really for me as I’m more into the mystifying but if you like simplicity, then you’ll like this. What gave it a little more personality than its rivals were the short interviews and quotes from well-known restaurateurs, cooks and sommeliers (though to my shame, I’d not heard of any of them.)

The World Atlas of Wine – Jancis Robinson & Hugh Johnson

Wonderfully thorough updated guide to the wine world. It’s also a beautiful-looking thing. If you’re interested in wine, you should have a copy of this. I’ve reviewed this and the one below for the Guardian so will put a link in when it’s up.

World’s Best Cider – Pete Brown & Bill Bradshaw

In contrast this one is a bit of mess from the photo-shopped cover to the typographical chaos that reigns inside. The words though, are all top quality. Brown, author of some great beer books, writes in the sort of robust Anglo Saxon that would have made Orwell happy. It’s not only a guide to ciders from around the world, and it really is a global product, but a history of and implicit manifesto for this much-abused drink.

Boutique Beer – Ben MacFarland

Again this is not a pretty book (it’s from the same publisher.) As someone who doesn’t know a lot about beer beyond drinking the stuff, I found the layout confusing with beers labelled by seemingly arbitrary categories. The author writes distinctively, I think you’ll either find him funny or wish he’d just stick to the point. His discursive style reminded me of a 1990s music journalist. You can read him here getting worked up over the Imperial pint glass. Still the author has been voted best beer writer in the world many times so clearly knows his stuff and it did make me want to be a more adventurous in my beer drinking.

Pocket Beer Book 2014 – Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb

Does almost everything that Boutique Beer does but with a more logical layout and more relaxing prose. Also fits in your pocket if you’ve got very big pockets.

And then it all got too much. . . .


About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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