Monday, September 26, 2016

Fred Minnick's Newest Bourbon Book

Fred Minnick is one of the most prolific writers in whiskey. This fall, he will be releasing his third whiskey book since 2013 (his previous books were Whiskey Women and Bourbon Curious). His newest volume is an historical overview of bourbon.

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, traces the history of bourbon from its earliest days to the present. Minnick adds some new speculation as to who might have "invented" bourbon, saying that he believes a Bourbon County, Kentucky distiller named Jacob Spears was the "true father of bourbon," though the evidence, as Minnick describes it, seems far from definitive.

There are a number of bourbon histories out there by respected writers such as Michael Veach and Chuck Cowdery. What makes Minnick's book different though is that while Veach and Cowdery tend to focus on distilleries and bourbon brands, Minnick's new books is really a history of the regulation of bourbon. Each chapter focuses on the different ways that U.S. has affected bourbon production and the bourbon industry.  Minnick fills an important gap here, for while there are many books that deal with Prohibition, I'm not aware of any other book that comprehensively examines the history of alcohol regulation in the way that Minnick's does. He looks in depth at wartime prohibition, anti-trust investigations, tariffs and the various laws and regulations that have defined what bourbon is and how it can be made. The downside of this focus is that it can be a bit dry (pun intended). I found myself very interested in the various laws that defined bourbon but less so in the tariffs.

Minnick's discussion of more recent times veers more into information about brands and consumer habits, and he unearths some interesting stories like his anecdote about Brown-Forman's ill fated Frost 8/80 from the late '60s. Frost was a Pennsylvania bourbon that had the color filtered out of it to compete with vodka. It was so poorly received that Brown Forman issued a national recall, buried the bottles in a landfill and banned the word "Frost" on company property.

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey in an important addition to American whiskey literature, and it's worth a read for anyone interested in bourbon's complex regulatory history.

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey
Voyageur Press ($15)
Publishes October 1, 2016

Thanks to Zenith Press for the review copy.


aphoticV said...

How would you compare it with Mitenbuler's Bourbon Empire book? It seems like some subjects discussed overlap.

sku said...

Good question. Mitenbuler focuses more on bourbon's place within history and historical events, whereas Minnick concentrates on the regulatory history - how bourbon has been regulated through the years.