An Intoxicating History

By: Mark Spivak

Published: November 6, 2012


From the epidemic of gin consumption that almost brought down the British empire, to Gaspare Campari toiling away in his workshop to infuse sixty herbs, spices, barks, and fruit peels into a mixture of alcohol and distilled water, to Sidney Frank waking up one morning and deciding to create the world’s best vodka, our global economy and culture have been profoundly affected by the spirits that I have designated here as “iconic.” Legislation was passed, moral crusades were launched and carried out, and the nature of society was altered.  It hardly seems possible over a few shots of booze, but the twelve spirits featured in this book became the catalysts for change in governments and our way of life.  They became the vehicles for creating the world in which we currently live.  – Mark Spivak 

This review is part of the book tour with www.PumpUpYourBook.com.  ICONIC SPIRITS is not my usual type of book, but the history of spirits and their creators intrigued me.  My husband has been having fun creating cocktails and trying out different drinks and I thought this book would appeal to both of us.  The cocktail culture has exploded over the last several years with restaurants selling high dollar cocktails and drink menus pages long.    Men and women are putting bars in their homes and making their own wines and beer.  The cocktail culture is strong and growing. 

I have to admit that some of the spirits mentioned in the book were ones I had never heard of.  But the evolution of how drinks were made was quite interesting.  Having toured wineries in California, I am familiar with the distilling process and was surprised at the levels of flavors and length of time some of the spirits need to evolve before being bottled.  Patience is definitely a virtue with a lot of these businessmen.  

Nearly each one of the creators came from meager beginnings and just had an idea. Each of them had a strong determination to make their dream a reality and fought through prohibition, wars, bad economies, and clearly came out ahead…most living as millionaires.

I think my favorite story came from Jean Paul DeJoria. In 2010, he was 66th on the list of Forbes 400th wealthiest Americans.  DeJoria is the cofounder of John Paul Mitchell Systems (hair care products) and surprisingly, also of Patron Tequila. He grew up in a foster home, joined the Navy, became homeless and was a single dad.  He sold Coke bottles to buy food and eventually got a job at Redken Laboratories.  That led him and a friend to create John Paul Mitchell Systems.  Then one day, drinking with another friend, he was given tequila in beautiful hand blown bottles from Mexico.  That sparked an idea that has since rocketed to the high-end tequila we know today.  But, the best part of this story is DeJoria’s philanthropy.  His motto is “Success unshared is failure”. He is extremely committed to helping others including Boys and Girls Club of America, Mine Seekers, those suffering from MS, cancer, diabetes, leukemia, and autism, and providing food for children with AIDS in Africa to name a few.  His most impressive charity is one he started in 2009 called Grow Applachia, an organization that teaches families how to grow their own food by distributing seeds and equipment and then teaches them how to use their crop to feed their families as well as their communities.  DeJoria is living the American dream and helping others to live it as well.  

Each chapter features one spirit and then ends with recipes using the featured spirit.  I know my husband and I will enjoy going through the recipes and trying them out.  I think first on my list will be a Tequila Sunrise made with Patron Tequila. 

If you are a history buff or like true stories of self-made businessmen, this is the book for you.  If you are curious about how some of your favorite spirits are made, the distilling processes of some of the spirits were quite surprising.  With each chapter being a stand alone, this is a book that can be read quickly or at your leisure.  Or, you can just go straight to the recipes!  As Spivak states, “These are the best kinds of stories. They are the kind a writer could never make up.”

Mark Spivak
photo courtesy of www.iconicspirits.net

Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants, and culinary travel. Since 2001, he has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group. His work has appeared in National Geographic TravelerRobb ReportArt & Antiques, and Newsmax. From 1999-2011 he hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.

For more on ICONIC SPIRITS or the author check out www.iconicspirits.net.

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