99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink, by Kate Hopkins. St. Martin's Press 2009
In this book, the author describes the history of whiskey, and whiskey making, based on research and her travels to the 4 major, whiskey-producing countries of the world; Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States. During her trip to each country she comes to describe the many different types of whiskey such as Scotch, Irish, Blends, Canadian, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. The inspiration for the book, and her trip, was a report of an anonymous man who had paid approximately $70,000 at a hotel bar for a bottle of Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky. That evening, he and some friends drank most of the whiskey. The report of this story drove Ms. Hopkins to want to learn about whiskey and the passion that people have for it. The author is a food writer, and not a stranger to drink, so in addition to some tasting notes in the book, she gives the reader recollections of drinking and anecdotes.
I enjoyed reading this book and gained a few insights from it. For example, the author traces an interesting path of distillation from Persia through the Iberian Peninsula to the British Isles. She describes how the technology could have been transferred via alchemists to Catholic priests both of whom could be bi-lingual in the local language as well as that of invading armies. She theorizes that people would have been experienced at distilling wine and after the process was introduced to the British Isles, someone eventually asked, “what would happen if we distilled beer?” Thus whiskey making was born. Also, I had never thought of the scale production had been at centuries ago. Especially after the patent still gained use, production was described as hundreds of thousands of gallons a year.
The author does a good job describing the differences between the corporate nature of the whiskey business and the small-company attitude they take in their advertising. She notes that many companies try to market how long they’ve been around with the implication that old is good in this business.
I enjoyed reading the book, and like I said, gained a few insights from it. Whether it was national pride from a country’s drink or how the States’ time of Prohibition hurt or helped another country’s whiskey production. The author lists dozens of references, so we can assume she did a fair amount of research. She also lists much distillery info for anyone who might want to contact or visit a place. I found this book at my local library but it will be worth finding my own copy.