Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Books for Imbibing

By Meredith Phillips

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  If you wake up one morning and realize that drinking is becoming a hobby, you have some lifestyle choices to make. One option is to spend every evening at your local bar, telling whoppers and cultivating katzenjammers, the mothers of all hangovers.

If you see this as an amateurish pursuit, you and your crowd can work on playing up the refined aspects of your interest, and become connoisseurs. All it takes is a commitment to learning the difference between a swill and a supérieur, which can easily be done with these selections that explain the process and pairings of spirited libations -- everything from beer to champagne.

The Millennium Champagne and Sparkling Wine Guide
by Tom Stevenson
DK Publishing, $19.95 paper

Tom Stevenson may be richly rewarded for his marketing coup -- a champagne guide geared to make profit off of the panic of the ultimate party -- New Year's for the millennium. Yes, there is still time to bone up on the fizziest of the fizzy, and learn about the history, semantics, and flavor profiles of the world's sparkling wines.

After relaying some basic information and profiling the world's best champagne houses, Stevenson gives flavor profiles, ranges of drinkability, and price gradations for sparkling wines the world over. This reference is for those with a real interest in wine, not those who drink champagne at weddings and New Year's Eve.

The Bourbon Companion: A Connoisseur's Guide
by Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan
Running Press, $19.95 hard

Do you know the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey? Can you list the basic flavor characteristics of a bourbon, and do you know where they come from? You'll know all these things after 10 minutes with this slim volume, and the cover alone will warm your throat.

This book dedicated to bourbon makes you proud to be an American. It contains 40 pages of the history of the craft (more than I knew but not more than I wanted to know), and a guide to appreciating American whiskey. The rest of the book is devoted to listing and ratings of American whiskeys, which you have to love because they have names like "Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon." That makes you feel warm inside too, doesn't it? And as American as apple pie.

Wine Spectator's Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine
Wine Spectator Press/Running Press
$27.95, paper

This tome is half book, half magazine, right down to the advertisements. (A confusing addition to a consumer guide.) But what at first glance looks like a coffeetable tome turns out to be a neatly arranged, highly valuable compilation of information previously collected for Wine Spectator magazine. The Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine would be a tremendously helpful reference to anyone with an interest in developing their palate, or even someone who just wants to know which bottle of Rioja is worth their $12 and which one simply isn't -- a great book for almost anyone with an interest in wine.

Ultimate Beer
Michael Jackson
DK Publishing, $29.95 hard

The ever-changing nature of beer makes this large, colorfully photographed book more of a coffeetable book than a serious reference, but Jackson provides the usual onslaught of information about how to take your beer seriously: how to roll the brew around the palate, what shape glass suits which beer, etc. He breaks beers down into categories like "Restoratives," "Aperitifs," and "Winter Warmers." He also helps pair beer with food, and offsets all the knowledge with photography and interesting sidebars. All in all, a nice gift for a thirsty friend.

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