Book review: Bourbon at its best

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Book review: Bourbon at its best

Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Apr 24, 2008 4:02 pm

Bourbon at its Best by Ron Givens. Clerisy Press: Cincinnati, Ohio, 2008. Contents, Index, bibliography, Illustrated, pp.176.

The dust jacket states that Givens has "written exclusively about spirits and beer" for various publications. That would lead one to believe that this book was going to be a fairly good source of information and even has a small bibliography listing some respectfull sources. The fact is the book has many mistakes in information and inconsistant facts. The book is a bit of a let-down to someone wishing to expand their knowledge of bourbon.

The mistakes found in the book can be obvious such as the statement that it takes to years for spirits to become bourbon (It is bourbon as soon as it hits the barrel, but it takes two years to become "straight" bourbon) or that James Crow invented sour mash (Given later even states that what Crow did was refine and document the sour mash process). They can also be misleading such as using a Four Roses Yellow Label bottle as an illustration for the Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon. Some are just puzzling such as having "color" as a field in his tasting notes but leaving off the "finish" field. Other mistakes are also inconsistant mistakes such as at one point stating that that there were 17 plants making whiskey before prohibition and only 7 operating when repeal ended prohibition while talking about the history of the industry, but later stating that there were about 240 distilleries in Kentucky before prohibition forced them out of business later in the book.

The book is not however without merits. First of all it is beautifuly designed with lots of color photographs. There are special insert pages in the paragraphs that often give excellent quotes from interviews with people such as Parker Beam, Elmer T. Lee and Jimmy Russell. The concept of the book as an overview of bourbon is very good. Starting with how bourbon is made, history, history of individual companies including rectifier companies as well as distillers, tasting notes of select bourbons, cocktail recipes and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail sites. This can be a bit repetitive since the Kebtucky Bourbon Trail site information often repeats the information given earlier with distillery history, but it is still some good information for those wishing to take the Bourbon Trail.

This book could be added to your bourbon library at a fairly cheap price of $25.00. This makes the investment worthwile because the book does have merit. Simply be wary of what you read and verify anything that might seem questionable.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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