I nursed my drink but it couldn't be saved.
Unshaved, cursed,
I got right to work on its doomed replacement.
- J. Robert Lennon

IN HIS collection of drinking poems, "In Their Cups" (The Harvard Common Press, $9.95), A.J. Rathbun reveals how well verse and good drinks go together:

"Both are driven by a love of balance and good taste, while at the same time being open to wild fits of imagination and of worldly things."

Cracking open a book about drinking can be as satisfying as cracking open another bottle. The aroma, the feel, the beauty of its creation - a well-written sentence is as enjoyable, as mysterious as a well-crafted beer.

Rathbun acknowledges his short collection is just a start, for the shelves are full of drinking words. I recommend the following selections this holiday season, whether you're searching for the meaningful gift for a beer lover or hoping to spend a moment with a glass of ale and your own thoughts.

For the believer: "Beer Is Proof God Loves Us" by Charles W. Bamforth (FT Press, $25.99).

Bamforth, one of the world's pre-eminent brewing scholars and researchers, says he recognizes the work of God (or Buddha or Hindu's Ayurveda system of traditional medicine) in many a glass. Though his writing has a humanist quality, Bamforth remains convinced that from the growth of barley to the creation of alcohol, "we see the magnificence of God's deliverance."

For the rationalist: "Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation" by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff (Brewers Publications, $19.95).

Ignorant of basic chemistry, man used to credit God with successful fermentation and blame bad beer on witches. Then he invented the microscope and finally saw the molecular cells at work in yeast fermentation.

Unless the reader is planning on opening his own brewery, this is not a book for snuggling up next to a fireplace. On the other hand, its easily understandable prose demystifies the science of beer's delightfully bubbly buzz.

For the anal retentive: "The Beer Journal" by Chris Wright (Skyhorse Publishing, $12.95).

With more than 10,000 beers brewed in America, a journal is a fun way to keep track of everything you taste. Wright provides some useful guidance, with style descriptions and tasting characteristics. But mainly the words in this book are yours to write.

This guide, unfortunately, is only a good start, for it allows room for fewer than 100 beers. That's barely a good month for me. As much as I enjoy real books, this is a rare case in which your gift recipient may be better off with an iPhone app or something else from the digital world.

For the traveler: "Pennsylvania Breweries - 4th Edition" by Lew Bryson (Stackpole Books, $19.95).

Philly's beer scene may be unsurpassed in America, but there's a lot to drink beyond the city limits. The Appalachian Ridge section alone, according to this latest guide to Keystone breweries, offers a wealth of unfamiliar destinations with fresh beer and new discoveries: Elk Creek . . . Copper Kettle . . . Gamble Mill . . . Berwick Brewing . . . Old Forge . . . Bavarian Barbarian.

Though Bryson's focus is beer, his book is foremost a travel guide. Beyond some 50 breweries, you'll find his musings on everything from hotel bars to cycling along the D&H Rail Trail to the Battle of Gettysburg. Along the way, you'll get a taste of pig-stomach stew, boilo (a mulled cider they serve in the coal region) and a slice of bumbleberry pie in an Erie County "dinor."

"The pint is not always the point . . . " he writes. "While great beer is a goal in itself, I have found that there is equal pleasure to be found in the hunt for great bars."

For the historian: "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent (Scribner, $30).

The 18th Amendment, writes Okrent, was more than about the prohibition of alcohol in America. It created the soft-drink industry, enriched the Mafia and - as interpreted by the Supreme Court - helped establish a woman's right to abortion.

Okrent's gripping history is serious, yet filled with readable anecdotes and astounding statistics. (Did you know, for example, that America drank twice as much wine in the midst of Prohibition than in the years just before it was enacted?)

Underlying this history, writes Okrent, is a troubling question: "How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first European colonist arrived in the New World?"

It's a question you might ponder while waiting in line to be X-rayed at the airport this holiday season.

Free beer!

'Tis the season for Christmas beer, and you can get a taste of goodies on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Southampton Citibank branch (511 Second Street Pike). Join Jolly Joe Sixpack for a ho-ho-ho sampling and tutored tasting of some of the season's best winter warmers and holiday ales. The strong ales and spiced specialties will be complemented by light snacks.

It's free and open to anyone over 21.

Joe Sixpack by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.