What is the essence of the book?
As the title suggests this book explores the naughty side of the spirits industry from illegal distilleries in the Scottish highlands to smugglers antics on the Kent and Sussex coasts.
About the author
Ruth Ball is a chemist by training so it’s probably no surprise that she eventually set up a company, Alchemist Dreams, to concoct bespoke liqueurs. What started as a cottage industry from her kitchen has grown into a popular consultancy which caters for the needs of clients like the British Library and the Science Museum.
Who will like it?
If you’re into your cultural history or drinking (or both) then you should love this book. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even if you are completely teetotal you would still enjoy this book, just for the way it’s written.
Who won’t like it?
If you’re really anti booze then I guess this book won’t appeal to you.
What do I like about the book?
Ruth Ball may be a scientist by training but her prose is far from fusty. The book jogs along at a merry pace. She manages to explain the technicalities of distilling alcohol in a fascinating way interspersing the history of spirits, like gin, with humorous tales of the lengths these distillers and smugglers went to to ply their wares. I love any book that teaches me new information or recipes. To find one that does so in such pleasurable and amusing way is a joy. You could treat Rebellious Spirits like a reference book and dip in and out of it from time to time but I defy you to put it down once you start reading it. It’s eminently more readable than a lot of fiction that is published these days. It’s a book that will drive you to drink but in the most positive way imaginable.
What aspects am I not so keen on?
None what so ever. Rebellious Spirits is just my cup of tea (or should I say gin).
Would I cook from it?
I’m not massively into cocktails but the way Ruth takes the time to explain the history behind these historic libations, like atholl brose, makes me want to try her Alchemist’s version. So, yes, I will definitely be giving some of the recipes a go.
Where can you buy it?
Rebellious Spirits: The Illicit History of Booze in Britain by Ruth Ball (Elliot & Thompson, £14.99)