Monday, July 27, 2015
Book Review: Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick
While we're no longer enjoying a Golden Age of Whiskey, the era we are in now may well be the Golden Age of Whiskey Books. The number and quality of whiskey books has improved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, and you don't even have to pay secondary prices to get them.
The latest entry is a fantastic new book by whiskey writer/blogger Fred Minnick: Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker. I have to admit that when I first heard about Minnick's book, I was wary. Minnick is a great writer (this is his third book and his second that is whiskey related), but there are so many whiskey books out there that coming up with something original is a bit of a challenge. Well, I'm happy to report that Minnick has more then met the challenge with a refreshing guide to bourbon that will certainly be valuable to novices but has a serious geek streak running through it.
Bourbon Curious is divided into three major sections. The first fifty pages are basic facts and history of bourbon, the second fifty pages describe bourbon production and the last section, the bulk of the book, includes descriptions and reviews of various bourbons. Again, this all sounds fairly standard, but Minnick takes a rather different approach than most books.
His general description section includes many things most geeks will be familiar with; he takes a myth-buster type approach and has little patience with marketing fluff and back stories. His history doesn't shy away from scandal, discussing the role of whiskey in the plunder of Native lands, cockfighting and prostitution (something covered in more detail in his previous book Whiskey Women).
His chapter on production goes into greater detail than many such books, starting with the grain. He discusses the various strains of corn, wheat, barley and rye, how and where they are produced, and the issues and controversies surrounding GMO and non-GMO corn. He has a similarly detailed review of water and wood, including the best tree types for barrels (clean below the limbs with four to six feet between knots and 10 to 12 rings per inch).
In his tasting notes section, Minnick divides bourbons into four categories based on flavor: grain (mostly young and craft bourbons); nutmeg (mostly traditional rye recipe); caramel (mostly wheated) and cinnamon (mostly high rye). I don't necessarily agree with those categorizations, but it's an interesting way to think about it.
In most whiskey books, I don't have much use for the reviews. I've had a lot of whiskey and don't really need someone to tell me what Evan Williams Single Barrel tastes like, but Minnick's reviews are different. Each one includes detailed information about the whiskey that goes beyond the typical age and proof. For each whiskey, he describes the type of grain used, where the grains are grown, the type of still used and the type of barrel used for aging. You don't just learn that Eagle Rare is ten years old and 90 proof but also that it's made from non-GMO corn from Kentucky and Indiana and rye from the Dakotas, that it's double distilled on an 84 inch wide copper still and a doubler, and that it's aged in Missouri Ozark American white oak with a number 4 char. He also includes mashbills, even for many whiskeys that don't publicly disclose them. It's a true geek-fest.
And Minnick has come up with a few sourcing revelations as well. He reports that Angel's Envy is sourced from three different distilleries, that Cyrus Noble Bourbon was distilled at the old Medley Distillery, and that Michter's is largely sourced from Brown Forman (perhaps explaining why I've never cared for it).
The book closes with a set of brief histories of some major brands which is something I've always wished someone would do. Some of these brands have been through numerous companies, and it's great to see those histories laid out.
As I noted above, this is a great book for both the novice and the bourbon geek, and make no mistake, it is exclusively about bourbon. There is no rye, no Tennessee Whiskey (save for a brief description of what it is), and definitely no flavored whiskey...just bourbon.
For bourbon fans, this one is a must have. The book publishes next week but is available for pre-order.
Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker by Fred Minnick
Zenith Press ($14)
Thanks to Fred Minnick for providing a copy of his book for review.