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Book Reviews

Gin Glorious Gin

May 30, 2016
Gin Glorious Gin book

It’s hard not to be horrified by some of the history chronicled in Gin Glorious Gin—the story of gin in London through the ages—children drinking pints of straight gin, drunken revelers so sauced they have to crash in the helpful piles of straw bars provided in the 1700s, or gin cut with such lovely items as turpentine. But this book is far from dour, author Olivia Williams has written a rousing history that starts off with the first references to gin in London and moves through to modern times.

Gin Glorious Gin bookI found myself reading passages out loud to Shawn on a recent drive to Niagara—completely entranced by the little old ladies who, drunk on gin, were a constant source of frustration to London police in the 1800s. It seems that the spirit made their behaviour less than exemplary, but somewhat amusing when viewed through a modern lens.

There’s a cautionary tale here to be sure. While Britain managed to make it through history without prohibition, they learned the hard way that unlimited access to alcohol—gin for the most part—was a recipe for disaster. The drunken madness that reigned in the 1700s until almost the First World War left a dark legacy. But, like most of the developed world, England started to regulate and manage alcohol consumption and it levelled off to where it is today. People discovered vodka and wine, leaving gin to flounder in the post-1960s.

For me, that was where the magic of this book started to wane a bit. The history of gin in London was just so vibrant and horrifying in pre-WWI that the post-war calm and cocktail craze seems practically quaint. The history of producers is interesting, though, and the notes about famous gin drinkers like author Kingsley Amis made for great additions. It was also neat to learn about the cocktails created for Royal weddings and that time the Queen’s butler had to break the rules to bring her preferred gin to an event.

I also enjoyed the final chapter, where Williams sets out distilling methods, explains the botanicals most commonly used in production and outlines where to drink the best gin cocktails in London. There’s some great info in this section that I was able to reference in my recent Introduction to Spirits course.

For those who are interested in the history of spirits, this book will make a fabulous addition to your library. While focusing solely on London was a bold choice, it turns out there’s more than enough from the city to make for a substantial read. Just be prepared to cringe and recoil in horror while reading about the excess and awfulness of alcohol consumption in the London’s early years.

And if you’re craving a gin cocktail now, I can recommend a few from Dillon’s Distillery in Niagara, Ontario. Shawn and I are big fans of the strawberry gin and are looking forward to cracking our bottle soon. Strawberry gin is best drunk on its own to fully appreciate the delicate flavours, but Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a great base for cocktails, like the Blue Spruce or The Gin 22.

Do you have a favourite gin? Share it in the comments below or on social!

Book Reviews

Cathy Ace – The Corpse with the Golden Nose

June 3, 2015
Author Cathy Ace
Cathy Ace

A wine-soaked mystery set in British Columbia wine country, Cathy Ace’s The Corpse with the Golden Nose was the perfect book to bring along on my recent visit to Prince Edward County.

Part of the Cait Morgan Mysteries series, the book revolves around the murder of a well-respected winery-owner and includes a cast of kooky wine-industry characters. Full of food and wine imagery, as well as some serious sleuthing, this is a great book for your summer wine country vacation.

I reached out to Cathy (who recently won the 2015 Bony Blithe Light
Mystery Award for her fourth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair) with a few questions about the book, BC and, of course, wine.
What inspired you to write a mystery novel set in BC wine country?
When I planned the series of Cait Morgan Mysteries I knew she’d be a traveling sleuth because I love to travel myself. I also knew she’d have to visit places with which I was already familiar, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in BC’s beautiful wine region, especially around Kelowna and on the west bank of Lake Okanagan. With a wonderful micro-climate, and opportunities for many different grapes to be grown, it’s not just a beautiful area, but also diverse in terms of terroir and now populated by small wineries. It is also a honey-pot for chefs! It’s an area where field-to-table dining is very popular, and foodies revel in the fruits which grow happily alongside the vines in the region. I wanted to share my love of the place, and the people, and this book gave me the chance to do just that – I hope!

Does Cait’s love for wine and food show up in other books in the series?
Oh my goodness me, yes! Cait’s rarely met a food or beverage she isn’t at least prepared to try, and I am happy to admit that I have consumed everything she eats or drinks (by way of research, of course!). There are mystery books by other authors where recipes are included, or the occupation of the sleuth is very food or drink oriented. I don’t go that far, but Cait’s love of nibbling and imbibing does tend to show up in every book. To be fair, she’s more of a gourmand than a gourmet, but that’s just because she can’t afford to eat as much gourmet fare as a gourmand would enjoy!

The Corpse with the Golden Nose with wine bottles
Photo supplied by Cathy Ace

Do you think Cait will visit wine country in a future book? Or might you revisit wine country as part of a different series?
Because Cait travels the world, it’s not beyond the bounds of reason that she might encounter another wine producing region of the world, but I don’t think I’ll be taking her back to Kelowna again. That said, she did spend time at a tequila producing agave plantation near Puerto Vallarta in Pacific coastal Mexico in The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb. Although she’s already “done” France in The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, I like the idea of her visiting the Champagne region. Of course, I’d have to spend a few weeks there myself just to be sure I got the details right!

Do you have a favourite or a few favourite BC wines?
Surprise, surprise – I do! Seriously, because I live just a few hours away, and because it’s such a lovely place to visit and spend time, I find that wine-purchasing excursions are great fun. There are so many wonderful wines to choose from, of course, but I have to admit I am not a drinker of white wines, generally speaking. Thus I veer towards the reds. The Mt Boucherie Family Estate Winery produces a delightful, light, fruity Gamay Noir, which I enjoy chilled in the summer, Blaufrankish pairs very well with lamb and pork, and their Melange Noir gets me through heavier winter meals with a good edge of tannin, as well as being a delightful accompaniment to cheeses – even the strong, runny type, which I love.

I also enjoy a glass of Voluptuous, from Van Westen Wines on the Naramata Bench; it’s fruity, full bodied and works well with or without food. When it comes to bubbles, the Cipes Brut from Summerhill Pyramid Winery is a fresh and delicious way to enjoy a glass of something that suits family celebrations, as well as any day when you want a little zip, and the rosé is a favourite option in my house. For special celebrations their Cipes Ariel is a worthy adversary for imported wines.

Finally, I cannot speak about the BC region without mentioning Icewine – there’s something incredibly special about sipping a wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine, and have become intensely sweet because of that condition. Once again I favour the reds. I don’t know if it’s still available, but Mt. Boucherie produced a fabulous Pinot Noir Summit Reserve 2002 Icewine and we snapped up a fair few bottles, which is a true indulgence. And their Merlot Icewine from a few years ago transforms any chocolate dessert with which it is paired into heaven. Though Icewine isn’t cheap, it has the ability to elevate the end of any meal into an event all on its own!

Did you get any feedback from the Canadian wine community about the book?
I was delighted when Mt Boucherie said they’d offer my book for sale in their wine store after I did an afternoon signing there. I hope that people who bought the book enjoyed being able to picture the landscape about which I’d written, and where they’d picked up a wine-related mystery.

Thanks so much to Cathy for taking the time to answer my questions about her book.

Do you have any favourite fiction books set in wine country? Share them in the comments below or on social.

Want to learn more about Cathy Ace or the Cait Morgan Mysteries? More info here:
Facebook: Cathy Ace – Author
Twitter: @AceCathy