by , Nov 30, 2006, 2:45 PM
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Much of the time, I base my Mag Rack selections on the cover of a given issue. For Imbibe, it was the back cover that caught my eye.

Let me explain. At my new special favorite cool magazine store, some inconsiderate oaf had placed the mag's November/December issue in the rack backwards. In doing so, he/she exposed a glorious "Let There Be Beer" ad, in which a frosty, frothing glass o' suds is set against an agrarian landscape. Upon viewing it, I snapped to attention, removed my cap and belted out the Canadian national anthem. Goosebumps, dude, goosebumps.

When I got around to checking it out, the front cover appealed to my genteel, patrician side as well, especially the call-out to "Guinness Cupcakes." Short of "Springsteen candy corn" or "Don Mattingly 12-string Taylor guitars, with the maple neck and pearl 'leaf' inlays," I can't think of a single blurb that would set my tail a-waggin' quite so much. Too, the retro-ish photo of a trio of fancy-shmancy cocktails captures the issue's holiday drinks/entertaining theme perfectly. The overall effect? That Imbibe doesn't take itself too seriously.

Then there's the cover mantra of "drinks culture life," which raised another question in my addled mind. Imbibe has a drinks-first 'tude and, as such, can't be labeled a "foodie" title. Is there a booze equivalent for this? I think we can safely rule out "wino." A "drunky-wunky" title? A "swiller"? I like "floozie" because it half-rhymes with foodie, but the bimbo connotation knocks it down a few pegs. Somebody get back to me on this.

And look -- there's stuff between the covers as well! Happily, Imbibe remains tonally consistent throughout. Its every item contains a trace of wit, but not so much that it overwhelms the information and advice contained therein. While I still haven't discerned the difference between a well-rendered recipe and an incoherent one, those featured in the November/December issue boast a quickie intro that adds personality and clear, seemingly moron-proof directions. Smartly, the mag features a recipe index up front; I don't know why every foodie/drunky-wunky-swiller-wino title wouldn't do the same.

I've droned endlessly about flowery food/beverage writing in this space ("I feel the words building inside me... I say these words as a prayer, as regret, as praise. I say: Gewürztraminer, Gewürztraminer"), so I'm thrilled to report that Imbibe's writers don't feel the need to set our brains aflame with overly styled wordsmithery. The feature on Prague's drinking culture is one part travelogue and two parts subtle observation; the one on a mixologist with an Emma Peel fixation offers welcome quirk, but not at the expense of a well-rounded portrait. The mag even goes the investigative route with a thorough examination of the 100-point wine-scoring system, snaring input from winemakers and critics alike.

The front-of-book Q&As pull in legit experts -- like the head of an absinthe society -- to answer reader questions. In the mini-features on hot chocolates and tea gear, only one of the eight or nine featured items is singled out for gold star/"top pick" distinction. "Dr. Cocktail" (a distant relation of Mr. Magazine?) waxes nostalgic on vintage drinks and the last-page "Quench" serves up an appreciation of egg creams. It's all good, not to mention credible.

Perhaps Imbibe relies a bit too heavily on list-y features, though that could be a function of the issue's holiday thrust. Both the "10 Festive Cocktails" and the 44 "Swoon-Inducing" gifts features (hey, Ms. Mag Rack: Would you swoon upon receiving a set of eight Letterpressed Wildlife Coasters? A USB Café Pod Beverage Warmer and Coolit Chiller?) are assembled well enough. But by placing them back-to-back in the issue, the mag gives itself a temporary catalog vibe. And the "Drink THIS" and "Here's What We're Drinking NOW" section headers could probably lose the CAPS; Imbibe does a fine job of conveying its enthusiasm through its words and doesn't need to resort to such graphic frippery.

Yeah, I'm pretty much nitpicking at this point. To sum up, then: I like imbibing and I like Imbibe. Editors of all the proposed food/beverage/home/hearth mags for 20- and 30-somethings would be smart to follow its light-on-its-feet example.

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