The Perfect Tonic: The Remarkable Medicinal History of Beer, Wine, Spirits and Cocktails

By Camper English

Shortlisted for the André Simon Food & Drink Book Award

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.

Format: ebook
Release Date: 19 Jul 2022
Pages: None
ISBN: 978-0-00-839458-5
Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer and speaker who has covered the craft cocktail renaissance for over 15 years, contributing to more than 50 publications around the world including Popular Science, Saveur, Details, Whisky Advocate, and Drinks International. With a focus on the nerdy side of mixology, he has studied everything from the history of carbonation to the science of clear ice cubes. He has been awarded International Cognac Writer of the Year by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac and Best Cocktail Writer at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, and he has been voted as one of the 100 most influential people in the global drinks industry for several years running.

'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

”'A cheerfully informative highlights tour ” - the literary equivalent of a bowl of tasty bar snacks to consume between sips of social history … English’s inclusion of previous pandemic practices gives [The Perfect Tonic] an extra dose of insight into human nature.’ New York Times Book Review

”'A rollicking, quirky story” - Washington Post

”'With immense wit and charm, author Camper English traces millennia to explore how civilizations used fermented and distilled beverages to do everything from hydrating the workforce to fending off the Black Death. English takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to his subject matter, resulting in wildly compelling stories, such as how Buckfast, a tonic wine created by monks to treat colds and influenza, became the 'U.K.'s version of Four Loko'. It is every bit as entertaining as it is educational.” - Scientific American

”'Camper English’s exploration of the medicinal history of libations is jam-packed with factoids about the history of distilling and medicine and arranged in thematic and roughly chronological order. The writing is lively and accessible, easily enjoyed by a medical anthropologist, home mixologist, or seasoned bartender.” - Science Magazine