Yorkshire, 1869. When self-made Victorian businessman Isaac Brookes returns home from his wool mill in France, he cannot suspect that a chance encounter on a train will alter the gastronomical landscape of the world. But when Isaac meets, and almost kills, Rodrigo Vermilion -- a hunchback midget dressed in rags -- Vermilion sees in pragmatic Isaac a grand opportunity to improve his lot in life, and becomes determined to go into business with the Yorkshire man.
Enter the Temperance Soldiers, a band of righteous social moralists who offer Vermilion the inspiration, and the idea he so desperately needs. One taste of his first Temperance Ale -- worse, he felt sure, than the ancient slime at the bottom of the pond, old frog juice, and duck droppings scooped up in a glass -- and this savvy schemer with a genius for persuasion is off and running. He soon convinces Isaac and his son to invest their fortune in an idea sure to appeal to Victorian sensibilities: Rhubarilla, a fizzy, fruity drink. And so begins the craze that will sweep the world in ways that even the irrepressible Vermilion never could have imagined.