Sunday, January 17, 2016
Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler - Guest Review
Published by Penguin Publishing Group May 2015
Source: courtesy of the publisher
When I was pitched this book, I knew immediately it was one that my husband would enjoy. I was right!
In this savory history of bourbon whiskey, journalist Mitenbuler recounts the journey of this archetypal American libation: distilled from a mix of half corn and half rye, wheat, or other grain, and aged in charred-oak barrels. The narrative follows from bourbon’s backwoods origins, through its patriotic ascension in the late 18th century over British-associated rum, to its modern maturity (after a flirtation with gangsterism during Prohibition) as the creature of multinational corporations. Mitenbuler engagingly explores the science and lore of whiskey-making and the resulting subtleties of taste, both lampooning the new wine-style whiskey connoisseurship and wallowing in it (let the “concentrated bursts of honey, spice and vanilla flavors unwind on your tongue,” he murmurs). But bourbon’s convoluted cultural associations fascinate him just as much: its protean links to cowboys, blue-collar joes, and Wall Street bankers, and the fake advertising backstories about rugged individualist founders sprouted from Kentucky hollers. Mitenbuler’s prose is relaxed and mellow with a shot of wry; his entertaining, loose-limbed narrative revels in the colorful characters and droll hypocrisies of capitalism at its booziest.
The Big Guy's Thoughts:
A very interesting book that outlines how bourbon shaped and has been a huge part of American history since before the American revolution. I was amazed how much the growth of this country and bourbon production, sale and consumption was integrated with many points in history and in many circles of society, high and low.
Many of the fathers of our country including Jefferson and Washington had stills and whiskey was thought to have medicinal qualities, so they provided rations to their fighting men in the field. Lewis and Clark carried significant whiskey rations on their legendary trip across America. Mitenbuler goes through the entire history of America from the not only the American Revolution but our Civil War where whiskey was thought to improve fighting skills. Obviously used as a pain killer in the gory field medical hospitals, but i would imagine to summon up courage to go into battle in the first place as well.
Mitenbuler spends a good deal of time discussing whiskey and prohibition and the beginnings of moonshiners which was the humble beginnings of America's beloved sport of NASCAR auto racing. Mitenbuler reviews a great deal of history over the various whiskey brands, families and companies rise and fall through history before and after prohibition. There were quality issues that brought about government regulation for safety of our fine American beverage and also the oak barrels and charcoal aging process developed over the years.
So the book covers the vast impact that whiskey has had on American society from the settlement of our country, through our wars, the business side of it's development through today's resurgence across the globe.
Having enjoyed some of the spirits myself, good and bad through my personal history, I really never thought of whiskey having this much impact on our society in the past and to this day. A very enlightening read.