Bourbon, Straight: The uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, by Charles K. Cowdery. Chicago: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2004. Contents, Bibliography, Index. Pp. 266
Charles "Chuck" Cowdery is best known as the publisher of the "Bourbon Country Reader" and the documentary "Made and Bottled in Kentucky. He has taken this extensive knowledge and created a very good bourbon book. It is a paperback book without any illustrations but does have a very good index. It looks simple but the contents belies its looks.
There are many very intersting chapters in this book. It is not quite a history book if you are looking for a chronological history of bourbon, but it is rich in historical information. It is not a tasting book even though Cowdery does put some tasting notes in the final chapter. What the book is very simply: A very good read which will leave you wiser for the effort. Cowdery's real talent in this book is to take sections of history that are very confusing even to those who have studied the history of the industry, and made sense out of them. A prime example of this is titled "Haydens, Wathens and Old Grand-Dad". The history of these families and the Old Grand-Dad brand is very confusing with many twist and turns that leave most people shaking their heads and puzzled. Chuck puts order to the madness tells their story clearly. His history is very sound and his arguments are based upon facts and not marketing.
Cowdery also includes a chapter that every bourbon should read titled "Why Ratings are Bull". He argues that rating systems are phony because there is no reasonable base line and all spirits (not just bourbon ratings) are judged above average. He also points out that they are also a matter of taste and what one person my like, others may not like and all for the same reason. One person may love barrel tones and woody flavors from extra aged products while another may find them too tanic and bitter. If the person rating the whiskey is part of the first group, then a person of the second group will not like his ratings.
Following the chapter "Why Ratings are Bull", Cowdery then gives the reader some "Product Reviews". These are not ratings and Cowdery does not try to rate these reviews as better or best - He simply gives his opinions of the product being tasted. Most of these products are the products that can be found today, but Cowdery does review some bourbons that were bottled over 50 years ago.
On the whole this book should be a standard reference for a personal bourbon library. The only fault in the book is a lack of footnotes defining where Cowdery found his information. This is only partially made up for by his bibliography.