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Reaktion Books' Edible Series: Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey

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Reaktion Books The Edible Series - Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, and Herbs - Book Reviews

Reaktion Books The Edible Series - Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, and Herbs - Book Reviews

Photo Credit: © Colleen Graham, licensed to About.com
The Edible Series produced by U.K. publisher Reaktion Books is an all encompassing volume of books that take detailed looks at a variety of items we consume every day. From apples to caviar, dates to pizza, the 32 books to date each focus on the "Global History" of that particular culinary ingredient, complete with historical and modern illustrations. Drink enthusiasts will find many of the titles geared specifically for us. Below are the reviews for four of those which discuss Gin, Rum, Vodka, and Whiskey in great detail. Penned by a different expert on the topic, the series does not become dull or redundant as each writer gives a unique voice to the scripted format. Despite their diminutive size, I think you will find these to be some of the most informative liquor history books.

Gin: A Global History by Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

Freelance writer and co-founder of 12BottleBar.com, Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, takes on the topic of gin in The Edible Series, and this is no easy task. Possibly the most difficult distilled spirit to explain in terms of its history, gin is both beloved and notorious, and its stories are filled with buts, and thens, and colorful connotations that would have most writers baffled. Jacobs Solmonson does a wonderful job of helping us figure it all out.

I have read large volumes on the history of gin and with every one I have had to continually reference backward to follow the spirit's timeline. It is, I think, the most confusing history of a liquor and that is why I have such a great appreciation for this far more concise telling of events. She takes the reader on a trip with gin, from the Dutch jenever to the British takeover, the development of our beloved London dry to the experimental world of New American Gin. The tonic turned sophisticated tipple is worthy of note and appreciation, as are these tales written so clearly.

Compare Prices on Gin: A Global History
170 pages
Published: June, 2012
Cover Price: $17.00

Rum: A Global History by Richard Foss

Food historian and journalist, Richard Foss, explores the often underrated, yet highly influential, history of rum in this small book. As he acknowledges in the introduction, rum has influenced culture, commerce, and society in a variety of ways over the years, making it, historically speaking, one of the most important distilled spirits.

Another finely written volume, Foss has delved into rum's storied past and attempts to look into the spirit's future in an entertaining read. Not as in depth as some other rum compendiums such as Wayne Curtis' And A Bottle of Rum, and yet not a historical snapshot either, this volume encompasses the major events of the liquor that has for years been taken, adapted, and produced throughout the world. From the Caribbean to the British Navy, colonial New England to today's ever expansive market, Foss details this story in a bright, respectful way that will have anyone sipping the sweet syrup before reaching the second chapter.

Compare Prices on Rum: A Global History
146 pages
Published: June, 2012
Cover Price: $17.00

Vodka: A Global History by Patricia Herlihy

Vodka is not as simple as it is often described. No, the clear, tasteless, odorless grain spirit is far, far more complicated than that and in this volume of The Edible Series, Emmanuel College Professor, Patricia Herlihy, attempts to dispel the myths and explain the global phenomenon that is the vodka market. She has done an amazing job at covering the entire scope of what vodka was and is. I cannot place one aspect of vodka that has passed her attention in such a surprisingly short book.

Beyond the history and production of vodka, Herlihy gives due attention to the craziness of the business of making vodka and this is my favorite aspect of the book. She examines the many variations of vodka, from the various grains and other base distillates such as potato to the astounding variety of flavor infusions which never cease to amaze me in their choices. She also looks at the marketing side of vodka from its origins to today. Unlike many distilled spirits, this is a liquor that is all about sales, more sales, and finding the most innovative way to appeal to a certain subset consumers. Herlihy also takes a look at our personal preferences when it comes to vodka. How "our brand" defines us, how it is so easily abused, and why it finds its way into so many drinks. Neither overly technical nor cultural, this is one of the most interesting books on vodka I've seen yet, possibly because Herlihy makes it feel so much more personal, having no qualms about telling the story of vodka how it really is.

Compare Prices on Vodka: A Global History
170 pages
Published: June, 2012
Cover Price: $17.00

Whiskey: A Global History by Kevin R. Kosar

As Kevin R. Kosar, founder of AlcoholReviews.com, explains in the introduction, this is not a glorification of whiskey like so many other books on the subject. It is, instead, a look at the spirit from all sides: the good, the bad, all encompassing. In the book, Kosar examines the origins of whiskey, how it is made, its lineage, its harsh business, and its evolution into a modern marketing machine.

It is quite the fascinating read and Kosar's style of writing makes it one of those enjoyable historical accounts. He looks at whiskey as a whole and breaks it down into the various styles, including the distinctions within those often national styles: how one Scotch can have an entirely different profile from one produced down the road yet retain its signature Scotch-iness. He also takes a look at the downfalls of whiskey such as its toxic effects on society over the years, its mass marketing machine complete with celebrity endorsements and cure-all tonic adverts. Recipes and brands have come and gone (and sometimes returned); whiskey has evolved over the years while simultaneously remaining distinctly whiskey, and Kosar does a wonderful job of distilling all of this down into a handy little book.

Compare Prices on Whiskey: A Global History
160 pages
Published: November, 2010
Cover Price: $15.95

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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