First published in 2012, this book has been re-published in 2014 and deals with all spirits, not just vodka. It’s an overview of the spirits distilling industry, and while packed with information it is a little on the, well, dry side. Take this opening paragraph from the chapter on tequila – which in fact I found one of the most interesting in the book, despite the author’s rather plodding writing style:
Tequila is a spirit unique to Mexico. It is made from the blue agave, which is not a cactus but a member of the lily family. It must be produced only in strictly demarcated areas of Mexico. Historically, tequilas were bottled young but many are now aged. Most are natural but some are flavoured. Some are inexpensive while others can be costly.
That last sentence is true of just about anything you can buy.
Mark Ridgwell has worked with some of the biggest spirits companies in the world, although the bio on this book doesn’t say in what capacity. It does say that the pinnacle of his corporate career was introducing the rest of the world to that fine Kentucky bourbon, Maker’s Mark. He also now runs the Taste and Flavours company, which represents a network of speakers about spirits.
The Vodka Chapter
But I’m The Vodka guy, after all, so what does it tell us about vodka? Well, we do get quite a good chapter, beginning with some interesting information about the history of vodka: how it developed in both Russia and Poland was used initially as a medicinal rather than a social drink. The use of bison grass in vodkas like Zubrowka is an echo of those times.
I like the story, which I didn’t previously know, of the ancient custom in the Polish-Lithuanian community where, on the birth of a child, the father would pour vodka into an oak barrel that had previously contained wine. This would then be sealed and buried underground until the child’s wedding banquet, when it would be cracked open and enjoyed. Boy, I’d like to have tasted some of those barrels!
The vodka and tequila chapters are two of the most interesting in the book. Like all the others they end with a list of questions to test you. It’s an unusual inclusion which suggests that maybe the book was originally written for some other purpose.
This isn’t a book to be read for the sheer pleasure of it, but if you want a simple reference source on the world’s many spirits – their histories, how they’re made, the regulations that govern them – then this is a decent addition to the bookshelves.