Liquor and Literature

Literature and Liquor: ‘Ham on Rye’ and Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

'Ham on Rye' and Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey. (Dean Ravenola/The Daily Campus)

Despite a myriad of poetry publications and book sales, Charles Bukowski is a name that is often excluded from Western literary canon. Critics have rebuked Bukowski as a misogynist, unsophisticated, distasteful and narcissistic. Even though these condemnations may very well be true, his work has stood the test of time for one reason alone: Bukowski is unabashadley himself. Although his methods may be lewd and crude, Charles Bukowski pours his own personal truths into every piece of his writing. “Ham on Rye” is no different, as Bukowski allows readers a murky glimpse into his formative years through the lens of his thinly veiled alter ego, “Henry Chinaski.”

This coming of age story is not for the faint of heart. Each is page dripping with profanity, masturbation, violence and booze. “Ham on Rye” recounts Bukowski’s rugged upbringing in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. From his abusive father who takes out his anger and disappointments on Henry and his mother with a razor strop, to the aggressive case of acne and boils that brand him an outcast during puberty and the sickening experimental treatments he undergoes to remove them, young Henry’s life is teeming with misfortune from the very start.

Although the novel careens from scene to scene, covering the most impressionable moments of his childhood without a semblance of traditional structure or plot, Bukowski touches upon a number of precarious topics. Some of the most prominent themes in “Ham on Rye” include disillusionment with the myth of the American Dream, the discrepancies between idealistic societal values and real life, and raging against the machine or system. Sometimes disgusting and almost always depressing, Bukowski’s coming of age novel demonstrates his incredibly sharp wit as he deconstructs and satirizes the plentiful hypocrisy he felt surrounded by growing up in early 1900s Los Angeles.

As you dejectedly ponder the flaws and falsities of society with Bukowski, a terrific bottle to wallow with is Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey. Although it may not seem like it to a broke college student, Bulleit is fairly affordable for such a full-bodied and flavorful bourbon, usually retailing for only slightly over $30. Bulleit Bourbon exudes a robust odor of oak, vanilla and honey, that somehow manages to smell both sweet and bitter. Despite being 90 proof, Bulleit is remarkably light for whiskey and has a surprisingly multifaceted flavor profile. Unlike most conventional bourbons, Bulleit incorporates a much higher percentage of rye, which not only ties back to the title of Bukowski’s novel, but also provides it with a spicy kick that is most pronounced when served neat. The powerful spice taste of Bulleit Bourbon is supplemented by woody oak tones and hint of darkly agreeable caramel. Just like Bukowski, this bourbon packs a punch and cannot be casually consumed in large gulps. It is best to take small sips at a time, and allow the biting taste to slowly flood your taste buds so as to not overwhelm your senses.

Dean Ravenola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at

Literature and Liquor: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’ and Canadian Club Blended Whiskey

David Sedaris invites readers to traverse through a slew of colourful vignettes that revolve around the passage of time and the inevitability of death in his sixth book, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.”

The essays Sedaris assembled to emphasize the theme of mortality range from everyday mishaps, such as accidentally spitting a throat lozenge onto the lap of a fellow commuter, to the bizarre corners of the world life takes us, like the medical examiner’s office Sedaris spends Halloween in while surrounded by decomposing corpses.

Just like so many celebrated authors before him, Sedaris writes about experiences and realizations he has had throughout his life. Sedaris was asked whether he would classify his books as fiction or nonfiction in a 2008 interview with Time Magazine.

“Nonfiction. I’ve always been a huge exaggerator, but when I write something, I put it on a scale. And if it’s 97% true, I think that’s true enough. I’m not going to call it fiction because 3% of it isn’t true,” Sedaris said.

Although he might occasionally embellish and alter minor details, Sedaris has a profoundly genuine tone, and at the heart of this novel he is doing all he can to share his truth. The authenticity behind his writing, along with some sardonic observations Sedaris makes along the haphazard road life takes him down, is why this novel has resonated so strongly with readers.

Some of the revelations Sedaris shares come directly from highly emotional points in his life, while others happen out of the blue in the dullest of settings. Yet all of these epiphanies are relatable because they circulate around realities of life that every single one of us will have to come to terms with at some point in our life. Whether it is the death of a parent, the loss of youth or routine turning a relationship stale, Sedaris invokes empathy from the reader by presenting these situations as plainly and abruptly as he experienced them in life.

While leafing through the series of thought-provoking essays Sedaris compiled in “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” a fitting drink to sip on is Canadian Club Blended Whiskey. Although Canadian Club is certainly not considered the highest quality whiskey, the drink has become iconic. This might be the whiskey your father used to buy before he got promoted, but it has remained a steadfast option at practically every bar and liquor store around for two reasons: price and drinkability. When it comes to whiskey, price is always tied into taste. The drinks at the bottom of the barrel are so horrid, they give whiskey a bad name, and anything that tastes remotely smooth will cost you an arm and a leg.

Miraculously, Canadian Club Whiskey is able to deliver a decent tasting bottle of whiskey for around $20. The whiskey itself is light and sweet with a delicate hint of cream on the aftertaste. In other words, Canadian Club is the perfect drink to slosh around in your tumbler glass while you’re curled up on the couch exploring the wit of David Sedaris.

Dean Ravenola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at