LITERARY LIBATIONS, the book I’m working on, is great fun because it allows me to spend a lot of time doing two of my favorite things in the world: reading and drinking. But writing drink pairings for famous books isn’t as easy as tossing back a cocktail or two, sitting in a leather armchair, and waiting for inspiration to strike. There’s a method to the madness. Creating pairing recommendations requires careful thought, planning, and research.
But there’s are a few straightforward ways to approach these pairings, and I’m here to share them with you, just in case you’re reading a book right now that I’ may never have heard of and you really want to know the the perfect thing to pair. Read on to learn my greatest secret* – how to pair books with drinks, the right way and the wrong way.
First, the wrong way. The best thing about writing LITERARY LIBATIONS is that it requires me to read, or at least skim, lots of other books. This is wonderful because, obviously, I want to read as many books in my lifetime as possible and this gives me an excellent opportunity to do so, but it’s also horrible, because I have a short time frame in which to finish writing this book and I don’t have time to read every single book I start, which is what I want to do. So I get sucked into a book and then I look up and three hours have passed and I should have written a pairing by then but I haven’t.
So I start researching possible drink pairings on Google, Wikipedia, and in my trusty drinks books, and then I get sucked into learning about the origin of the Russian Imperial Stout and how that style got started when Czarina Catherine in the late 18th century fell in love with stout British beers and started commissioning them from England and very soon became famous for having picked all the darkest, heartiest beers for her personal consumption and her court’s enjoyment.
And then I come up for air and realize that a Russian Imperial Stout isn’t the right pairing for Crime and Punishment anyway, as that novel doesn’t have anything to do with emperors, and Dostoyevsky’s prose in that novel is actually quite sharp and cutting and nothing at all resembling the round, welcoming palate of a Russian Imperial Stout, so I shelve the stout for another pairing and start brainstorming other possibilities.
This is when reason kicks in and I realize I’ve wasted a lot of time and I quickly return to the RIGHT way of writing drink pairings. The process of finding the perfect pairing for a book isn’t easy, but these steps will show you how I curate the pairings.
Here are the three big things I think about when seeking out the perfect pairing for a great book.
1. Where is the book set?
If the book in question is set in a particularly scenic place and time – such as For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, which is set in the province of Segovia during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s – the pairing should be something that transports the reader into that world. (To see what I paired with For Whom The Bell Tolls, watch this video.) This could be a bottle of wine from the region, or a cocktail that was renowned during that time and place, or a beer brewed in the area. Anything that helps bring the backdrop to life will make a great pairing.
2. What are the major themes?
Sometimes, setting isn’t enough to find a great pairing. Maybe the book is fantasy or science-fiction, and there are no real-world settings to bring to life with a great bottle of wine. In these cases, we need to think about the themes. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, some of the major themes are: memory, repetition, mirroring experiences, and the sparkle of magical realism.
In these cases, a great pairing will often emerge from one of these themes. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for instance, where a reputable doctor uses a potion to transform himself into a demonic, misshapen monster, the pairing suggestion is an Irish Car Bomb – where you take a perfectly reputable beer (Guinness) and drop in a shot (Bailey’s and whiskey) that quickly curdles the cream to produce a disgusting concoction- unless you drain the beer immediately, of course.
3. What is style of the prose?
When people in the drinks business talk about booze, we talk about flavor, texture, acid balance, and palate shape. All these factors intertwine, but the most defining feature across all different kinds of drinks is palate shape. Think about the last time you had a low-grade spirit. It was sharp and grating on your tongue, and it burned your throat and mouth going down. Right?
By contrast, think about the last great bottle of wine you had. It probably had a long finish and felt clean and smooth in your mouth. You probably wanted to drink it all night.
That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about palate shape. Even the most inexperienced drinkers can talk about drinks like this, because it’s literally what you feel when the liquid hits your tongue.
Writing styles are like that, too. Ernest Hemingway’s prose is often described as “muscular” or “powerful”, which makes it a great accompaniment to concentrated red wine. John le Carre’s prose is precise, deliberate, and cold. His words come at you like a knife. The perfect accompaniment will be something spare, no frills, sharp and hard-hitting. A simple glass of chilled gin, neat, matches that style perfectly.
So there you have it!
The three best ways to find the perfect pairing for your favorite book. What would YOU drink with what you read? Leave a comment to let me know!
*This is not my greatest secret. That was a lie. My greatest secret is…ha ha! Got you good, didn’t I?
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