Serious Reads: How's Your Drink?

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

cover-felten.pngWhile the Wednesday food section long ago cemented its role as a staple of big-city dailies, regular columns devoted to the bibulous side of gastronomy—especially to things spirituous (let's forget wine for now; those guys get all the press)—lag much further behind. While drinks are largely an afterthought in many papers, there are a few notable exceptions: the San Francisco Chronicle has long been home to cocktail columns by Gary Regan, and more recently spirits writer Camper English has taken the reins for Friday features on drinks; the Los Angeles Times has occasional, but often noteworthy, features on drink as part of its food section; and the infrequent Wednesdays when Eric Asimov steps into the spirit world over at the New York Times, the result is always something that ranks near the top of the Times' "Top E-Mailed" stories list for the day (and while the paper's Sunday "Shaken and Stirred" column was once the place to find unforgettable cocktail coverage by William Grimes and William Hamilton, recently it's ... well, don't get me started.)

In recent years, some of the best regular drink writing in the country has appeared in the unlikely venue of the Wall Street Journal. Written by Eric Felten—who's moonlighting from his career as a successful jazz musician and bandleader to pen the column—"How's Your Drink" addresses cocktails ranging from classic to modern to wildly obscure, exploring each drink's composition as well as its larger role in history, culture and politics.

Now, Felten's elegant writing on drinks is available to those who don't regularly pony up the cash for a journal subscription. How's Your Drink? (Agate Surrey, $20) -- which has a launch date of November 26—gives Felten plenty of room to roam about the world of libations. As befits a writer who lives in Washington, D.C., Felten devotes plenty of ink to the role drinks have played in politics, ranging from the first definition of the word "cocktail" in print—which appeared in a backhanded comment about Democratic politics—to Teddy Roosevelt's courtroom testimony about drinking mint juleps to the way an order for a gin and tonic served to underscore the absurdity of the Cold War during a summit between Kennedy and British P.M. Harold Macmillan in 1961. Felten also paints the scene for modern mixology, through encounters with contemporaries such as Lucy Brennan and Charlotte Voisey, and throughout the book he reaches deep into literature, motion pictures and pop culture to illustrate the era in which each drink is an integral part.

It's easy to see spirituous drinks as simply another type of liquid refreshment; with How's Your Drink?, Felten reveals the world of culture and history that accompanies each sip from the glass.