Newton's Last Alchemist @ the Wellcome Collection

One of the best things about living in London - and one which I'm ashamed to say I make use of far too little - is the sheer variety of things to do. So, in a bid to make better use of the available opportunities for fun and unusual activities, a friend and I headed off to the Wellcome Collection last night for a talk by Dr Richard Barnett on the early history of gin, complete with a Renaissance philosophers' drinking game. :)

I have to say it was absolutely brilliant - the 45 minutes simply flew by as Richard hopped through history, from the early alchemists of the Middle East in the seventh and eighth centuries all the way to Isaac Newton, via the Dutch East India Company. Most of the time referrals to gin in history only ever look at the gin crazes of the 1800s and vilify it as 'mother's ruin', so it was really interesting to learn the history of the spirit and how it went from being more like a sticky medicine to something closer to what we have now, although even at the end of the period - and in Holland today - it was still very much at the stage of being something that was drunk neat as a sweet liqueur rather than the slightly sour, citrussy spirit mixed into cocktails. I've never really been a sciency person but hearing about the chemistry of gin and how it evolved was absolutely fascinating.

What amazed me was the sheer scope of the talk; it wasn't just around the science elements but also took in literature, military history, economics and the rise of an empire. Richard himself is also a fantastic speaker and struck the perfect balance between a serious lecture and some more light-hearted moments, which made the event even more enjoyable and completely immersive. The only slight quibble I had about the evening was that I wished it could have gone on for longer, although (shameless plug alert!) Richard has written a book on the history of gin which I may have to purchase to find out what happened next. And of course, there will be a blog when I have finished reading it...

The evening also featured a delicious gin and tonic from the guys at The Travelling Gin Co., made with Sipsmith gin, Fentimans tonic and lime - yum yum yum. The guys who ran it were also really friendly and I've signed up to their mailing list to see where they'll be next. I loved the concept and think it would be absolutely great for a summer garden party for a special occasion or - although my boyfriend would no doubt freak out if he knew I'd said this - a wedding.

Overall, it was a fantasic way to spend an evening, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the Wellcome's website to see what other talks they do - the others in this series which were mentioned before the talk sounded fascinating, so it's a place I hope I'll be coming back to a lot over the coming months.

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