So. From time to time publishers like to tease us a little bit and recently the people at Jacqui Small offered booksellers the chance to receive a rather splendid looking book about the history (and continuing rise) of gin. The first ten responses would get a copy of the book to review and the first three would also get a free gin tasting set. Well, let’s say I’m quick off the mark….but not that quick. I’m going to have to review this book purely on its own merits (and my own personal gin stash) as I was, at best, responder number 4 😦
Back in the 90s I was sure I didn’t like gin and then I moved to Stockport for a year, living in a shared house in Edgeley. Let’s just say by the time I left my housemates had converted me and a long and happy relationship with gin had begun – at the moment I have four different gins in the house (more if you count the sloe gins which a couple of my friends make each year and give me samples of…) and some of my favourite pubs have a gin list as well as a wine list. Liking gin is probably the coolest thing I do because, it seems, gin is in! And I know this because this book not only tells us all about the ‘global artisan gin revolution’ but has pictures of a lot of young men with fashionable beards enjoying gin – and a drawing of Pliny the Elder to boot.
This isn’t to mock young men with fashionable beards (or Pliny the Elder) but I think the photos are part of the campaign to rescue gin from the image it had of being a rather old-fashioned drink, favoured by ladies of a certain age and refined accents. And this is, pretty much, what this book does. Starting with the history of the drink – which is a long one, there is evidence that juniper has been used by man since the days of the Lascaux cave paintings in approximately 10,000 BC – and its medicinal uses (the Egyptians used juniper to cure headaches and tapeworms so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when monks were experimenting with distillation in the 11th century they added juniper to the wine they distilled) we move on to the development of modern gins and then, hurrah, to all the lovely varieties available.
This is a substantial book with lots of information – the history, the botanicals used in distillation, tasting notes for 300 different gins, suggestions for the best gin joints in the world and cocktail ideas – but it is an entertaining read. The perfect gift for the gin-lover in your life this Christmas, perhaps? And for the non gin-drinker? Well, lets just say with this number of different tastes if you give gin a chance you may well find one that suits you!