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Empire Of Booze by Henry Jeffreys

...the kind of pleasure-seeking individual
who could have provoked a puritan revolt
with a raised eyebrow.
When it comes to books from Unbound I am entirely likely to go easy on them, from a criticism-point-of-view. They are, after all, trying to do something amazing in the publishing world and I'm all for that, indubitably. That said, when I pledge for books whilst in thrall to drink, occasionally, when they do finally make it into print (if at all), they are not quite as amazing as I had drunkenly expected.

As an example, I proffer Empire Of Booze. I think I'd been at some sort of literary event, where someone or other was sloshing around either hedgerow cocktails or exciting, hipster 'craft' beers, and not only did I indulge myself both with the tasters on offer, I immediately bought their book, and I also chucked twenty or thirty quid at this, as it was sympathetic to my contemporaneous desire for more of the same.

Now, don't think that I'm saying this is a bad book; it is certainly not! Rather, it is informative, entertaining, enlightening, enjoyable and accessible. However, I could if I so choose level charges that it starts out feeling just a little too glib, limply whimsical, repetitive, and filled with the names of people and places (presumably through necessity) to the point of readerly exhaustion. I gave up following the families and chateaux and just let it all wash over me. It also reads like a series of collected newspaper articles in a Saturday supplement: neither ostensibly scholarly enough (though I don't doubt its accuracy given the extensive reading list at the back) to be a solid historical account of the British influence on alcoholic beverages, nor whimsical enough to be an amusing comedic stroll through the tastes of British intemperates down the ages.

After a slow start, it does gather momentum and interest however, and the latter chapters on whisky, particularly the effects of prohibition in America on Irish whiskey sales, are downright fascinating. I found myself enjoying it more and more after my initial and frankly quite mild disappointment. It just wasn't what I expected, although ironically the record of quite what that was has been lost in the fog of drunken enthusiasm. Still, I've certainly been drinking more since I read this and as a result, so if that isn't cause to celebrate* then I don't remember what I was saying.

*with a whisky and green ginger wine!


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