IoS Books of the Year 2012: Drink

The mad professor's tipple of choice

In a non-vintage year for booze books, the standout has to be Wine Grapes (Allen Lane, £120), the mighty attempt by Jancis Robinson and ampelographic colleagues to cover every single variety ever turned into wine, from abbuoto (no idea) to zweigelt (a delicious Austrian red). True, you can buy a decent case for what it costs (or, for its target audience, a bottle or two), but for a certain sort of geek, it's indispensable. Beautifully presented and written, its learning is worn lightly in offhand references to "Muscat somethings".

It is very adult though; how do we get the kids interested in the fruit of the vine? Well, finally, the entirety of the acclaimed, fantastical, four-volume manga The Drops of God (Vertical, £10.99 each) has appeared in English, taking the juice as its subject. The son of a wealthy wine writer (I said it was fantasy) has to out-taste a wicked rival to inherit his father's impressive cellar. Adventures ensue. It does cover a lot of obscure, unattainable Burgundy though – a good way to teach young folk hard life lessons about disappointment.

Less exotic is The Vineyard at the End of the World (Norton, £17.99), Ian Mount's account of how Argentina changed from a vinous and social backwater to a reliable source of enjoyably accessible reds. Jay McInerney's The Juice (Bloomsbury, £14.99) gathers up the author's musings on wine from their natural home in in-flight magazines, while The Finest Wines of Germany by Stephen Reinhardt (Aurum, £20), the latest in the publisher's Fine Wine regional series, does a sound job, even if photos of German grape farmers at play are inherently less funny than those of, say, their Spanish counterparts.

Pete Brown's Shakespeare's Local (Macmillan, £16.99) is a workmanlike history of The George, the sole survivor among Southwark's noted coaching inns. It's a fair way of covering the changes in Britain's beer culture, though the author does get pub-philosophical at times. Equally high-minded is Tony Conigliaro's Drinks (Ebury, £25), which promises to do for the humble libation what Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal have done for food. Its wildly complex mixed drink recipes, with their tinctures, essences and foams, are for the professionals. But an unemployed mad scientist with a fully equipped commercial kitchen, a well-stocked laboratory and access to industrial-strength solvents could make use of it. More accessible is Steamdrunks (CreateSpace, £6.49), Chris-Rachael Oseland's entertaining collection of stomach-curdling, often milk-based Victorian cocktails from an age before vodka or refrigeration. If you think drinking should be more like hard work and less about fun, these could be ideal.

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