Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Whiskey 101: Clay Risen's American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye
Clay Risen's new book American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye is a refreshing and comprehensive treatment of American Whiskey. A New York Times editor and author of the Mash Notes blog, Risen's new book joins Chuck Cowdery's Bourbon, Straight as a must have for anyone developing an interest in American whiskey.
While the bulk of the book contains reviews of over 200 American whiskeys, I most enjoyed the 76 page Introduction, in which Risen manages to cover pretty much every aspect of American whiskey, including its history, production, composition, label terms and tips on organizing tastings. The breadth of material covered is truly impressive, and Risen includes many recent trends in the industry, including white whiskey, craft distilling, flavored whiskey and non-distiller producers, all of it written in accessible, engaging prose.
The review section spans every type of American whiskey and includes both tasting notes and a paragraph or two about each producer, including many independent bottlers and craft distillers. Recognizing the importance of the craft trend, Risen went out of his way to sample (and in some case, choke down) a huge number of craft products, making this one of the largest compendiums of craft whiskey reviews anywhere.
Nothing in the book is sugar coated, including the ratings. Risen uses a star rating system ranging from a high of four stars to a low of NR (not recommended), and he's a tough grader, even by my standards. He also makes clear which producers make their own whiskey and which are bottlers or blenders.
Risen's book fills a real gap on the shelves, both as a broad survey and a buyers' guide. Even though it's intended more as an introduction, the detail is such that I would recommend it to longtime whiskey enthusiasts as well. It goes for around $16.
American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye
by Clay Risen
Sterling Epicure, 2013 (298 pages)
Disclaimer: I reviewed and gave feedback on a draft version of the book and was sent a complementary copy.