Empire of Booze by Henry Jeffreys. Unbound.
We all love booze. Beer, wine, cider, whisky, rum, gin, brandy, port, sherry and so on is what we thrive on. Alcohol is the very lubricant of life. But what do we actually know about these luscious liquids which help us make sense of an ever more confusing world? Empire of Booze is not just another style guide to drinks but a very well written, humorous book which traces the impact of alcohol on British culture and how British tastes for booze helped shape the drinks that are now consumed throughout the world.
The author devotes a chapter to each of the main types of alcoholic drink giving a history of British involvement in developing the drink, mainly through the role of British merchants who moved to drink producing countries to facilitate the exporting of drinks to England. Each chapter ends with Henry’s personal recommendations for the best brands to buy. He is an experienced wine writer who has written for The Guardian, The Economist and The Lady.
The books kicks off with a chapter on cider. The idea of adding sugar to cider to create a secondary fermentation was picked up by the French who adapted it to champagne production. Champagne was originally a still wine until its potential as a sparkling wine was realised. If you are looking for real cider that is not adulterated with food colourings and artificial flavours, Henry recommends ciders by Ashridge, Burrow Hill, Gospel Green and Aspalls.
There are chapters on more esoteric drinks such as Port, Madeira and Marsala which may make you want to discover these rich, unctuous fortified wines which used to be popular in times past but are now a very specialist taste. The author’s authoritative recommendations mean that should you try his suggestions you are unlikely to be disappointed.
We learn that rum which is made from molasses was a by-product of sugar refining. Slavery enabled the West Indies to be developed as a sugar growing centre for Britain and rum was widely exported especially to America where it was the most popular drink until Independence in 1973 when it was supplanted by locally made whiskey.
The chapter on beer is fairly straightforward with a well-researched account of the origins of India Pale Ale and the story of Bass, as Britain’s first trademarked product and at one time the best selling beer. The chapter also covers the rise of Guinness to become one of the world’s first global brands.
If whisky has always confused you with its malts, grains, Highland, Lowland, blends, single malts and so on then this book will explain all as well as introducing you to Irish Whiskey. There are also chapters on Gin Palaces (the very ornate pubs that can still be found in City Centres), Cognac, Claret and Australian wine.
This book is one you definitely want to keep on the shelf for reference purposes after you have read it. The author really knows his stuff but there is nothing pretentious and patronising in this volume, unlike many books on wine and spirits. At £12.99 it is less that the cost of a bottle of cheap whisky but will last a lot longer and ultimately give you much more pleasure.