The Book of Gin
A Spirited History from Alchemists' Stills and Colonial Outposts to Gin Palaces, Bathtub Gin, and Artisanal Cocktails
“An absorbing popular history of one of history’s most popular drinks.” —Booklist
Gin has been a drink of kings infused with crushed pearls and rose petals, and a drink of the poor flavored with turpentine and sulfuric acid. Born in alchemists’ stills and monastery kitchens, its earliest incarnations were juniper flavored medicines used to prevent plague, ease the pains of childbirth, and even to treat a lack of courage.
In The Book of Gin, Richard Barnett traces the life of this beguiling spirit, once believed to cause a “new kind of drunkenness.” In the eighteenth century, gin-crazed debauchery (and class conflict) inspired Hogarth’s satirical masterpieces “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane.” In the nineteenth century, gin was drunk by Napoleonic War naval heroes, at lavish gin palaces, and by homesick colonials, who mixed it with their bitter anti-malarial tonics. In the early twentieth century, the illicit cocktail culture of Prohibition made gin—often dangerous bathtub gin—fashionable again. And today, with the growth of small-batch distilling, gin has once-again made a comeback.
Wide-ranging, impeccably researched, and packed with illuminating stories, The Book of Gin is lively and fascinating, an indispensable history of a complex and notorious drink.
“The Book of Gin is full of history that will make you grin . . . An enchanting read.” —Cooking by the Book
In the book's prologue, Barnett captures the essence of his work in one line: "Gin's proverbial clarity, like a prism of clear glass, refracts a rainbow of historical color." Not only does this sentence portend the chronological account of "this liquid fire" to come but also gives a glimpse of Barnett's incisive thought process and distinguished prose. The author of Medical London: City of Diseases, City of Cures, Barnett begins with distilled alcohol's and juniper oil's early incarnations as intoxicants and elixirs, and his expertise and passion for the subject is immediately gin-clear. At times, Barnett's research is so thorough that when he outlines London's 18th century "gin craze" that led to a host of parliamentary Gin Acts, the reader gets a little drunk of information. But as Barnett explores gin's role in the creation of the cocktail, and the tale shifts to America, where gin's bootlegging and pop culture connections are exposed, his story becomes an intoxicating blend of history and entertainment that is sure to stimulate drinkers and teetotalers alike.