Booze has always been on the cusp of banishment. It's part and parcel of what makes it so much fun. From the prohibition laws of the 1920s to the general fear of moral turpitude, the powers that be have frequently fretted about whether or not we know what's good for us.
And now, Alchemist Dreams founder Ruth Ball has delved into the cocktail cabinet to research and write Rebellious Spirits: The Illicit History of Booze in Britain (published in a beautiful hardback edition by Elliott & Thompson).
With a background as a chemist scholar and a career in handmade liqueurs, it's hard to think of anyone better placed to write such a book. What's that? You'd rather someone with alcohol-infused ancestry had put pen to paper? No problem. Ruth's very distant relation is Admiral Edward Vernon who, according to what it says on my bit of paper here, is "the man who invented grog as a way to serve the rum ration to the navy in 1740". It's safe to say that with Ruth at the helm of this book, we're in safe hands.
Rebellious Spirits is a damn fun read. How could it not be? With chapters devoted to each of the major spirit groups (whisky, gin and co), as well as the infamous speakeasies that have become so painfully hip again, Ruth has truly committed herself to the business of becoming the biographer for booze. So much so that she has not only recreated the recipes for several cocktails from days of yore, but also brought them up to date for more contemporary palates with a mixture of alcohols that are less likely to, err, blow the brains off our more delicate constitutions. If there's one thing alone we learn from Rebellious Spirits, it's that our forefathers were much harder drinkers than we are.
I love the mix of historical facts with recipes and personal stories from the characters involved. And the characters we meet on the way are fascinating - as are the ingenious lengths they go to in order to conceal their illicit booze making from the authorities. To avoid giving away any spoilers, the best I can say is that you must read this book and learn that there are people out there who quite literally died so that you could enjoy a dram of whisky when you fancy one.
For more information and to buy a copy, please click here.