Those who know me well know that my go-to drink is bourbon. “Take glass, insert whiskey” is my favorite cocktail. I’m hardly a connoisseur, and I don’t consider myself particularly well-educated on the subject. When I heard about Reid Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire: The past and future of America’s whiskey, I thought it sounded like a good way to catch up.
Although the book is an examination of the history of American distillation, it lacks a dispassionate tone. Mitenbuler clearly enjoys bourbon, though he presents both the highs and lows of history. The use of humor in the narrative makes the reading experience more like a conversation over a glass of whiskey than a lecture.
That’s not to say that this book couldn’t be used in a history class. Bourbon did not develop in a vacuum, and Bourbon Empire discusses the effects that law and bourbon have had on each other over the centuries. Prohibition is, of course, the obvious example, but the practices of the whiskey industry were an important part of getting the Pure Food and Drug Act passed.
As a first book, Bourbon Empire is an exceptional result. My only complaint is that it ended much too quickly. The stories behind bourbon brands are rarely as interesting as the marketing department would have you believe. Nevertheless, Reid Mitenbuler weaves them together into a complex and enjoyable experience worthy of a terrific bourbon.
Bourbon Empire is published by Viking Penguin and is on sale now.