The second I saw this on NetGalley I knew I wanted to read it. The history of gin is something I’ve wanted to read about for a while, I’ve known a small bit about it’s sordid history but it’s such a rich history I wanted to know about the highs and lows of gin.
This book is heavy on the history. Well, gin does have a 400 year old history so there’s bound to be a lot! The book does however start with modern artisanal brands in London, instead of leaving it until the end, which was a nice touch. The book then starts on gins Dutch origins as ‘genever’, the introductions to Britain (they think the term ‘Dutch Courage’ comes from British soldiers fighting alongside with Dutch men in the Thirty Years’ War and adopting the Dutch tradition of using a shot of genever to fortify themselves before battle). Genever is still considered a national drink in the Netherlands and the book explains how the distinct London Dry gin developed from genever (a process that was helped due to the invention of the Coffey Still, by Irishman Aeneas Coffey).
The book then moves into the big Gin Craze that swept the nation for years. Gin was often a lot cheaper than beer and many poor people used it to cope with their terrible lives. Houses were often subdivided into many slums, that often became minighettoes of filth and poverty for different ethnicities. From the book I learned that there were Irish tenanments in London, nicknamed Holy Land and Little Dublin. Hogarth’s Gin Lane painting is such a famous depiction of the filth and debachary that gin was associated with. If people think binge drinking is bad these days, it is NOTHING compared to what happened during the Gin Craze! It took a long time for gin to shake off that imagine but it did, something the book of course guides us through, talking about how big name gin companies like Gordon’s, Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire came about. The book also talks about the equipment used, such as the stills, many of which were made 100 odd years ago or so and are still in use. In fact, when Beefeater’s number seven still turned 100 years old in 1998, the staff through a party for it (I wonder if it got a letter from the Queen?). And no gin story would be complete with it’s partner in crime, tonic water, which also gets a chapter dedicated to it. The book rounds out with a look at the botanical flavours associated with gin, most important being juniper of course and from that I learned that London Gin’s second strongest flavour should be….coriander! And that the main citrus flavour in gin actually comes from coriander.
Like I said, this book is big on the history side of things, with the book mainly composing of that, so if you’re not a huge history fan then this might not be the book for you. It is packed full of interesting titbits though, I have so many bookmarks and just couldn’t tell you all the things I’ve marked as interesting. You’ll find out who once called someone a ‘dung-cock’ in the witness stand and why (what a fantastic insult though!), why the National Gallery was founded, the stories behind the big gin brand’s logos, the connection between gin and MI6 building, who recently suffered from the antiquated condition of cinchonism (too much quinine, found in tonic water) and the other Pimms’ Nos that were available besides Pimms No.1 (the gin based one). I think that even if you’re not a huge gin fan, you can still really enjoy this if you have a thirst for knowledge (Ya, I went there!).
This copy was requested from NetGalley, with no obligation to produce a review. All opinions are strictly my own.