The Perfect Tonic

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What to expect

An intoxicating interconnected history of booze and medicine, from one of the world’s foremost cocktail writers.

Consider the Negroni. The bittersweet cocktail dating to the early 1900s is made of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Gin takes its name and flavour from the juniper tree, which medieval doctors burned to ward off bubonic plague and other miasmas. ‘Vermouth’ comes from the German word for wormwood, a herb famous for its ability to rid the body of intestinal parasites. Campari is a brand of liqueur dating to 1860 with a secret recipe probably containing gentian (effective against indigestion) and rhubarb root (used as a laxative). The perfect cocktail of curative ingredients is now self-prescribed as an aperitif.

The intertwined stories of medicine and alcohol stretch back to the ancient world, and involve alchemy, madness and monks, not to mention microbiology, biochemistry and germ theory. Now, in The Perfect Tonic, Camper English reveals how and why the contents of our medicine and liquor cabinets were, until surprisingly recently, one and the same.

Critics Review

  • ‘In the last decade and a half, few people have documented or contributed more to the growth of cocktail culture than Camper English’ Bartender Atlas

    ‘At last, a definitive guide to the medicinal origins of every bottle behind the bar! From prehistoric beer to exotic French liqueurs, a swig of alcohol has always served as tonic and treatment. With a cocktail nerd’s love of obscure ingredients and a passion for odd historical details, Camper English illuminates the murky, confounding, and even grotesque history of booze as medicine. This is the cocktail book of the year, if not the decade.’ Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist

    ‘When the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that “reading nourishes the intellect and study banishes fatigue”, I’m pretty sure he was thinking about [The Perfect Tonic], or at least would have been if he’d stuck around to read it. In any case, Mr English has written as an instructive and entertaining a book as I can conceive.’ David Wondrich, editor in chief, The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails

    ‘Dive into these pages and you will learn the raucous and unlikely true tale of how every alcoholic drink from beer, wine, and bitters to the vanished and banned cocaine drinks of the nineteenth century, were once thought to banish all manner of ills. Better yet, you’ll be grandly entertained. I predict that by the last page you’ll find yourself feeling oddly . . . better.’ Garrett Oliver, editor in chief, The Oxford Companion to Beer and brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery

    ‘Equal parts science textbook and historical narrative, [The Perfect Tonic] is a beautifully researched and thoroughly engaging trip through the story of some of our most beloved libations.’ Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author of The Bar Book

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