Alcohol and literature have been good bedfellows for about as long as they’ve both existed. Maybe that’s because good storytelling is borne of inebriation. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s pretty commonly held that they go well together. And that’s true both from a writing standpoint and a reading one.
That being said, you shouldn’t just grab whatever you have in your liquor cabinet and start flipping pages – not unless you don’t want the best out of the experience. Rather, if you’re going to be delving into the world and, perhaps, mind of a brilliant wordsmith, you’ll likely enjoy it more if you theme your beverage to your story of choice. And that’s why we’ve put together this list: to help you pair 15 classic books with the booze that best encapsulates the mood, mindset, and/or soul within their pages. So pull up your favorite reading chair, get out your best glassware, and dive in.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Booker's Bourbon Whiskey
Penned by Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an absolute staple of United States literature. It exemplifies our collective pioneer spirit, often crass sense of humor, and doesn’t shy away from pointing out some uniquely American social issues – all of which we still apparently have a hard time with to this day. So it makes sense that you’d want to imbibe a similarly storied American liquor along with this tome, like Booker’s Bourbon Whiskey. Booker’s might not be the oldest company making this spirit, but the unique combination of small-batch distilling, straight-from-the-barrel unfiltered bottling, and numerous accolades over the years definitely make it a bourbon worth anyone’s time.
The Art of War
Luzhou Laojiao Bainian Baijiu
Most people can recite a few choice quotes from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, but very few can say they’ve actually read this beefy treatise on military strategy. And that’s a shame, because this book is one of the most important ever to have come out. Sure, it’s no mythological legend or tongue-in-cheek adventure novel, but it’s still a look into the history of warfare and may actually have some non-violent applications today. In contrast to the actual number of readers of this book, the paired spirit – a Chinese drink called baijiu – is hugely popular amongst the literal billions of Chinese citizens and, thusly, the most popular alcohol in the world. Literally translated to “white alcohol,” this is a spirit we believe everyone should try at least once.
The Book of Five Rings
Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky
Much in the same manner that Sun Tzu is China’s most famous general, Miyamoto Musashi is Japan’s most famous swordsman. He was also an accomplished strategist and writer, of which both are exemplified in The Book of Five Rings. Though the basic structure and verbiage of the book suggest it to be one about military tactics, Musashi’s thesis – that a man who conquers himself is ready to take on the world – can be widely applied to a number of different endeavors in the modern world from business to adventure. While you might think sake the obvious beverage to go with this book, we tend to lean toward brilliantly executed Japanese whisky – like the Hibiki Japanese Harmony you see here. It’s a bit more sophisticated and takes a more refined pallet to distinguish the complexities of the drink.
It’s not easy to write a comical war story – or at least the endeavor shouldn’t be taken on lightly. Which makes Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 all the more impressive. Not only is it a hilarious look at war on the Italian front during WWII, but it’s now considered an American classic. In fact, the very idiom “catch-22” comes from the title and overarching theme of the novel. A catch-22 itself – to some degree – Fernet-Branca is a very interesting liqueur that goes excellently with this book. This is true, in part, because it’s from Italy (where the story takes place), but also because the bitter herbal spirit is almost self-contradictory in that it has a bitter and biting front end, but an almost minty refreshing aftertaste.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Martell Cognac Cordon Bleu
Penned by Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo is perhaps the most expertly crafted story of revenge ever to have been imagined. That’s part because of its cleverly conceived twists and turns, part because it illustrates the lengths to which a man might go to seek revenge, and part because it inspired other great works, such as the legendary graphic novel V for Vendetta. Of course, we’d be remiss in our duties if we didn’t pair this classic French tale with an equally classic French beverage. Cognac, which is brandy made in the lands surrounding the town of Cognac, is a spirit made from the distillation of grapes. You can think of it sort of like super wine. This variety, Cordon Bleu, from Martell also benefits from being distilled by one of the oldest houses still in the business of making cognac.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Macallan Scotch 18 Year
It’s a common misconception that Dr. Jekyll’s mystery potion turned him into a flesh-and-blood beast when, in actuality, he stayed human and just gave into his darker side. This story is more about the duality of mankind as we are, how we each have both good and evil within us all, and that it is up to us to decide which part to nourish and propagate. And it’s as true today as it was back when Robert Louis Stevenson first penned it. Though the story deals with the monstrousness in all of us, it’s alcohol pairing comes in the form of something much more refined: aged scotch. Made in Scotland, R.L. Stevenson’s place of birth, this spirit will serve to soothe yours – even when reading tales of horrific monsters.
Another story that traces the path of the evil of which men are capable, Alan Moore’s From Hell is a graphic novel reimagining of the true Jack the Ripper story from Victorian England. And, although it could technically be called a “comic book,” it is neither for children nor for the faint of heart. The same could be said for its alcoholic counterpart here: absinthe. A popular drink during the time of the Ripper – especially for its hallucinogenic properties – this wormwood-infused, anise-flavored beverage has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to the reemergence and re-popularization of handcrafted cocktails. Beware, however, if you aren’t fond of the flavor of black licorice, as that’s the primary flavor profile.
The Great Gatsby
Yes, we know that most folks (at least in the U.S.) had to read this book in high school. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic tale. In fact, we believe that you’ll appreciate it more now that you’re older – because it takes a certain level of maturity to really understand what’s going on in this story of identity and the missteps of human greed and covetousness. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence – perhaps in the form of a dirty Hendrick’s gin martini. The juniper found in this spirit creates a flavor profile that outdoes the glorified pickle juice that is the vodka variety and it’s a staple of any home bar.
Metaxa Grande Fine
It takes a pretty good story to survive through the bulk of recorded human history. And Homer’s The Iliad has done just that. Though a difficult read and – at times – hard to buy into, this epic of gods and men culminates at the end of the Trojan War and is the basis for much of modern storytelling as we know it. Or is at least a major influence on the path of literature. And what better to go with this Greek tome than a beverage born of the same lands? The Grecian version of brandy, Metaxa Grande Fine is a lush and deep spirit equally enjoyable on its own or following a hearty feast.
Three Sheets Spiced Rum
If The Iliad is an epic of the folly of mankind as a whole, Moby Dick is the ultimate story on the foolishness an individual man can have. If you’ve ever looked out to sea in wonder at its vast glory or you just like to kick back and watch the waves every once in a while, this Herman Melville-penned book is a must-read. Hell, it’s a must-read for anyone with even a moderate interest in literature whatsoever. And, of course, this seafaring novel goes together brilliantly with what is, arguably, the most oceanic of spirits: spiced rum. This one is made by Cutwater Spirits, formerly Ballast Point, and encompasses everything a good spiced rum should be.
No Country For Old Men
Buffalo Trace White Dog
If you consider yourself an American literature enthusiast and you’ve never read a Cormac McCarthy, you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice. No Country for Old Men is an excellent place to start – especially if you haven’t already seen the motion picture. It’s a quick, harsh, and unforgiving read, but it’s beautifully written and you’ll be better off for it. Similarly harsh, but still worth your time, Buffalo Trace’s White Dog is a white whiskey that’s unforgiving to the unrefined palette, but can be rewardingly complex with a bit of investment in the un-aged spirit.
On The Road
Casamigos Tequila Reposado
Though there’s been a recent resurgence in the popularity of a nomadic existence, this lifestyle dates back for literal generations – including the beatnik era as written about in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. This hitchhiking-across-America tale will certainly speak to anyone who’s ever thought of ditching everything, picking a direction, and going – though it also covers some of the downsides of such a lifestyle. To pair with this novel, we’ve picked what might be Jack Kerouac’s favorite spirit: tequila. Don’t let the fact that George Clooney started Casamigos fool you; the brand is a stellar purveyor of the blue agave liquor. Don’t believe us? Give the Reposado a try and see for yourself.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Montelobos Mezcal Joven
Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes in a style called “magical realism.” This literary sub-genre hinges on presenting a mostly-possible story peppered with hints of the magical, impossible, or – at the very least – exceedingly improbable. One Hundred Years of Solitude – which follows the birth, rise, and fall of the mythical town of Macondo – is certainly his most popular work and certainly amongst his best. And, though he is actually Columbian, we think mezcal is the appropriate drink to go with his writing. This Mexican spirit is made much in the same way as tequila, but mezcal differs in that its flavor profile is distinct and often much more smokey – it also mixes great with pineapple juice, if you like that sort of thing.
The Sun Also Rises
This list wouldn’t be complete without the writings of Ernest Hemingway. And while it would be easy to put The Old Man and the Sea on our list, The Sun Also Rises is arguably a better – or at least more complex – novel. In this story of Post WWI Europe, Hemingway tackles everything from Paris nightlife, to Spanish bullfighting, to the highs and lows of the human spirit. He also makes mention of a drink called anís – of which ouzo is a variation. This variety is the number one best-selling in the U.S, boasts the bold crisp licorice-like flavor of the anise plant, and can be incorporated into a number of unique cocktails or drank on its own – if you can handle it.
Midleton Rare Irish Whiskey
Do not take on the writings of James Joyce lightly. They are exceedingly complex and deep and, to the untrained reader, might seem like a bit too much to handle. Ulysses – his take on the Grecian epic – is no exception. That being said, this book is no less a classic and, if you can learn how to properly enjoy it, is exceedingly rewarding. Virtually the same thing could be said for Irish whiskey, like the Midleton Rare Irish Whiskey you see here. It’s not for beginners, but it is absolutely a superb spirit in every sense of the term when your palette is ready for it. And yes, James Joyce is also from Ireland.