Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage
by Michael R. Veach
University Press of Kentucky (2013)
I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about, reading about, and drinking whiskey; particularly bourbon. Over time I have amassed a good sized collection of books; from whiskey histories to cocktail recipe books to books that are basically massive collections of whiskey tasting notes (my least favorite to be sure).
One of my absolute favorite books on whiskey is Michael Veach’s Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage.
Veach is a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and a blogger as well as a published author, and this book is one of the best researched and best-written books on the history of bourbon that is in print today. Veach’s book has gotten some remarkable reviews as well:
“Historian Michael R. Veach has done the research necessary for a factual but readable history of Kentucky Bourbon. He has crafted it into a storyteller’s envy that is both enjoyable and well told.”―Al Young, Four Roses Brand Ambassador
The book begins with a look at farmer distillers and the Whiskey Rebellion, giving the reader insight into the history of bourbon before it became the consumer product that we all know and love. And this is perhaps the best part of Veach’s book, the fact that he looks at bourbon through a historical lens and separates the facts from the mythology that so often obscures the truth.
These myths are pervasive, such as the one about Elijah Craig accidentally using charred barrels to age his whiskey and getting credit for starting the use of such barrels in aging spirits. This myth persists even though we know that the French have been aging their cognac in charred casks since the 1500s. But perhaps my favorite part of this book is the insight into the life of Dr. James C. Crow, the namesake of Old Crow bourbon.
Dr. Crow, a Scottish born chemist, and physician is regarded by many, including me, as the father of modern bourbon. He brought a scientific thought process to distilling, making sure that each batch was as close to the last as possible. He also made sure that the reasons for doing something had a purpose, and it wasn’t done simply because that was “the way it had always been done.” Dr. Crow was first employed at Glenn’s Creek Distillery before moving on to Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, now Woodford Reserve, and then moved to the Johnson Distillery which later became Old Taylor, so his impact on bourbon was remarkable.
Dr. Crow’s story is one of many that lay the foundations for this drink we all know and love, and Veach does a wonderful job balancing the historical bits such as receipts for mash bills with the odd stories of how certain distilleries and their namesakes got their start.
If you have not already picked up a copy of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, I suggest you do.