Some people are of the opinion that literature goes best with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. I’m sure that for many people, this is spot on, but I’m afraid I’m not one who agrees. Literature should be paired with alcohol. Books and booze, as I’ve long said, are two of the greatest things that humanity ever came up with, so it seems rude not to enjoy them together. Indeed, my relationship between alcohol and literature was best summed up in a line in Charlie Hill’s novel Books:

“Someone who reads too much without wetting his whistle regularly will become stupid; someone who drinks too much without diluting his drink with literature will end up in the gutter. Only the two together preserve culture; only the two together are culture.”

And I’m not alone in this belief. In honour of World Book Day 2019, the Independent published an article celebrating the pastime of reading in pubs. But even if that’s not enough, you simply need to take a quick look back through the annals of literary history to see that the two have been linked forever. In her 2013 book The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing beautifully explores the struggles that some writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Raymond Carver had with alcohol. Everyone knows how booze defined the lives and literature of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. In fact, just about the only author who didn’t seem to spend their free time in the pub was my dear Agatha Christie, who eschewed alcohol in favour of – unbelievably – double cream.

So what are we going to drink while we read?

My go to beverage is usually wine. White wine ideally, and something German like Riesling or Gewürztraminer, but I’ll always settle for a good Sauvignon Blanc, and any number of reds, from Malbec to Merlot. The oldest evidence we have for wine in human society dates back to around 6000 BC in what is now Georgia, and it’s fair to say that it’s defined many aspects of our culture since. It has long played an important role in religion, for example, being associated with blood in ancient Egypt, being used in Roman Bacchanalia and associated with the Greek cult of Dionysus, and even still being consumed in Judaism and Christianity to this day, in the Kiddush and Eucharist respectively. There’s nothing quite like a glass of wine.

Or how about beer? Beer dates back 13,000 years and is believed by some historians now to be the entire reason that civilisation exists. Before beer, humans could be nomadic, but brewing takes time, so people would have had to stay in one place for longer periods of time for the grain to ferment. This led to the construction of villages, and later cities, which meant agriculture could take off and change humanity’s path forever. After water and tea, beer is the third most popular drink in the world, and the surge in craft breweries in the last decade proves that it is in no danger of disappearing. People continue to experiment though, and there are now craft beers available that are based on the flavours of almost everything including coffee, sriracha, lobster bisque and Christmas cake.

Maybe you prefer your spirits? Mine is vodka, and I’m one of the only people I know who drinks vodka neat. A lot of people prefer gin, though, and in recent years gin has been the mainstay of booze culture. Originally Dutch, when it arrived in Britain it was served by the pint as people didn’t quite know what to do with it. Fortunately, this incredibly dangerous and foolish habit has long died out, and gin is far more respectable. In 2017, there was even a haunted gin sold for the first time, each bottle of which had been personally cursed by a white witch. According to those in the industry, however, gin is slowly beginning to drop away and we can expect a rum revolution in the coming months. Famously associated with pirates, navy personnel used to receive a rum ration when heading out to sea, forever linking it with ocean goers. It even became a vitally important trade good when Australia was founded, due to the lack of coinage. These days, it forms the basis of one of my favourite cocktails, a Zombie.

Speaking of cocktails, maybe they’re what you prefer. The first cocktail recipe book appeared in 1862, and the first cocktail party was held in 1917 in Missouri, but they didn’t really come into their own until Prohibition kicked in across the USA and speakeasies sprang up all over the country. With a secret bar having the potential to be raided at any moment, drinkers preferred these drinks that could be finished quickly, and gin soon replaced whisky as the nation’s favourite spirit as it didn’t take so long to make. Cocktails became less popular throughout the twentieth century, but towards the turn of the millennium interest grew once more, and cocktail culture is again a key part of society, with new concoctions being created all the time. Despite this, no one still really knows where the word “cocktail” comes from.

But we’re travellers in fiction. So why should we limit ourselves to drinks in the real world? Without further ado, here are six of the best fictional drinks…

Lacasa

Let’s start with something fizzy, to wet our whistle. Since we’re setting out on a journey through the fictional world of beverages, it seems only sensible to turn to a famous fictional journey to find some inspiration. In The Road to Oz, the fifth book in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, Dorothy returns to the eccentric land once more, and at a birthday party for Princess Ozma. Although what the drink actually contains remains up for debate – and in Oz, it could literally be anything – it is said to be much nicer than soda water or lemonade. From this, we assume it is non-alcoholic, but it’s always nice to try and explore something new.

Vesper

James Bond is credited with inventing the Vesper martini but it is the only drink on this list that has made it into the real world. Now a staple on the list of official cocktails established by the International Bartenders Association (IBA), the drink has remained a favourite. Unlike a traditional martini, a Vesper uses gin and vodka instead of just one, Kina Lillet instead of vermouth, and lemon peel instead of an olive. Oh, and it famously, it was shaken, but not stirred.

Bond listed it as his favourite drink, and after first sharing the secret with a barman in Casino Royale, noted, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.” However, despite the IBA including it on their list and its notoriety, it is now impossible to to create the original recipe. Kina Lillet was discontinued in 1986, and in 1992 Gordon’s gin cut their proof. Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray gin both work adequately now, and Cocchi Americano often replaces Kina Lillet, as it has a bitter finish. In 2006, Esquire published an updated recipe which ended, “Shoot somebody evil.”

Moloko Plus

This is probably the drink on the list that I’d least like to have a go with, but it’s an iconic drink of fiction – if for all the wrong reasons – so I thought it deserved a spot on the list for sheer imagination. Moloko Plus is a drink from the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, and the ingredients are very vague. What we do know, however, is that there are several forms and they all are made primarily of milk and some kind of drug, such as barbiturates. On at least one occasion, the characters introduce one that doesn’t have any drugs in, but instead contains small chips of glass. This is a “moloko plus, with knives”. Drunk to prepare for a session of ultraviolence, it’s also possible to give it to minors, as the drugs involved are technically not illegal. You know, I think I’ll stick with a White Russian.

Butterbeer

The Harry Potter universe is so vast that, just like with picking the best fictional vehicles, I had to include something from here. Witches and wizards do drink many things that we Muggles would recognise, such as tea and hot chocolate, but they’ve got a plethora of their own drinks to choose from. Prop yourself up at the bar of The Leaky Cauldron and you could settle in with a pumpkin juice, pale blue nettle wine, laughter-inducing Gigglewater, a disgusting infusion of Gurdyroots, or even a glass of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky. However, the best drink in the series is of course Butterbeer. With a very slight alcoholic content that disagrees with house elves, it’s otherwise considered alright to serve it to minors. Said to taste like a less-sickly butterscotch, it’s a thick, foamy and refreshing drink. Like the Vesper, many people have tried to reconstruct it, with various degrees of success. I’ve had it made from several different recipes – some alcoholic, some not – and all I can say that is if I was at Hogwarts, I’d be quaffing the stuff back like it was going out of style.

Frobscottle

Speaking of drinks you can’t get enough of, we come to frobscottle, the drink favoured by Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant. Because he refuses to eat children, the only food available to the BFG are disgusting vegetables called snozzcumbers that taste like, depending on who’s eating them, cockroaches and frog skins. On the other hand, the only drink the BFG has is frobscottle, a fizzy soda drink that tastes incredible. It is unique among carbonated beverages because the bubbles sink downwards rather than rising up, but this does lead to, what the BFG refers to as, “whizzpopping“.

Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster

We can’t finish this list, of course, without the “best drink in existence”. Showing up in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy having been invented by ex-President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, humanity has yet to find a way to replicate it so far. Famously, while we’re not sure entirely what it tastes like, we do know that the effects of drinking it are similar to “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick”. Official advice is that you should never drink more than two of them unless “you are a thirty ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia”. The recipe is one that can only exist in the mind of Douglas Adams, and ingredients include, four litres of Fallian marsh gas, a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, the juice from a bottle of Ol’ Janx Spirit, the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger, and a single olive. Drink, but very carefully…


Thanks for joining in and reading this new entry in my new series, Six of the Best. This is a twice-monthly series in which I take a look at fiction and books more generally and explore the fictional worlds I love so much. If you’ve got any suggestions for things you’d like to see me talk about, then please comment and let me know!