Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge | Book Review

This was such a fantastic book!  I loved it and give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.  And Bourbon isn't just for bourbon aficionados.  Yes, the book focuses on bourbon, but it covers quite a bit of American history as it goes, making for an entertaining read for history lovers too.  I picked this up because I'm married to a bourbon aficionado and I think this book has made me into one too!  

The author starts with the man who is credited with creating the distilling process for hard liquor.  Now, yes, I know, this isn't bourbon.  Yet.  But it's still quite an entertaining story.  Hard liquor is credited to a monk, and dated back to about 1270.  The man was known as quite a partier and drinker (of wine) before he drank himself into a stupor, saw Jesus, and became a monk.  Thank You, Jesus, for the gift of bourbon...  

I won't go chapter by chapter through the book, because Dane Huckelbridge tells it so much better than I ever could.  I learned so much!  I learned the "drunk in public" laws of the ancient Aztecs.  Do you know this?  For a plebian, the first offense resulted in a public shaving of your head and the loss of your house.  They literally dismantled and took away your house for the first drunk in public offense.  The second offense?  Death.  And it gets worse:  if you were royalty, you were slapped with the death penalty on the first offense!  I also learned about hard-partying Founding Fathers.  Fifty seven of them once got together to celebrate the signing of the Constitution and their bar tab included:  60 bottles claret, 54 bottles Madeira, 22 bottles porter, 12 bottles beer, 8 bottles of whiskey, 8 bottles of hard cider, and 7 bowls of rum punch.  And some broken glasses and decanters.  

These fun facts are definitely not alone!  They're sprinkled all throughout the book.  There are Civil War generals who issue daily rations of whiskey to their men and molasses tidal waves in the streets of Boston (relevant, I promise) and Hatfields & McCoys and how the West was won on whiskey a shortage of bourbon during WWII (did you know that unrefined whiskey can be used in a bajillion different ways to help a war effort?) and Prohibition (cocktails!  Women!) and the baby boomers (more cocktails!) and all the way up to 2010, when the first NYC bourbon distillery opened.  

Also sprinkled liberally throughout the book:  illustrations and photographs!  They're great.  I snapped a picture of the one page to text to my hubby.  Someone in the mid-1800s had placed a classified ad asking for "5,000 lbs bacon and 5,000 gallons whiskey."  Hmm.  I think I could be friends with that guy!  Then there are the reproductions of the ads from the 1960s and 1970s for various bourbon brands.  Sunny Brook used the slogan "People like you like Sunny Brook" and Maker's Mark went with "It tastes expensive... and is."  (Both were successful ad campaigns!)

This was not a dense book; very approachable by anyone and everyone.  I highly recommend that you have a bottle of good sippin' bourbon nearby when you pick it up though; you'll want a glass once you've started reading.

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