Everyday Drinking, By Kingsley Amis

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The Independent Culture

Alcohol is customarily a pastime for writers rather than a topic, but Kingsley Amis wrote three jolly books on the subject. Gathered in this volume, his bluff musings ("Vintages – aargh! Most of the crap talked about wine centres on these") made the New York Times bestseller list.

This is partly because Amis was, according to Christopher Hitchens's introduction, "a very slight cocktail bore". The topic is not boring in Manhattan and many British readers will be interested to hear of a pick-me-up attributed to Evelyn Waugh ("Pour the gin and Guinness into a silver pint tankard and fill to the brim with ginger beer") and cocktails such as the Lucky Jim (a vodka martini) and Reginald Bosanquet's Golden Elixir (a Bellini). Though Amis's facts can be erratic – his disparagement of tequila ("distilled from the juice of a cactus, and tastes like it, too") is both inaccurate and unfair – his opinions are, in general, spot on. Amis's "Mean Sod's Guide" is hilarious: "If anyone insists on Scotch, go to your pantry and read the paper for a few minutes, [then] hand the glass over with plenty of emphasis, perhaps bawling: 'One large Scotch whisky delivered as ordered, sah!'"

Musing knowledgably on hangovers, he offers antidotes from Churchill (one brace cold snipe, one pint port) and Coleridge: six fried eggs, one glass laudanum and seltzer. Hitchens points out the price Amis paid for his hobby. "Booze... robbed him of his wit and charm as well as of his health," but this remains a charming and witty book.