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Review – Bourbon: The Evolution of Kentucky Whiskey

Posted by Reese on 2011-03-03 @ 04:54pm

I am, no doubt, a fan of America’s most well known spirit, bourbon.  You’ve seen me rave about it here before and I’ve mixed more cocktails than I can remember with it.  So, naturally, when I was sent a review copy of Sam K. Cecil’s Bourbon: The Evolution of Kentucky Whiskey I was immediately interested.  Having just come to a lull in my reading, last week was a perfect time to tackle this tome of American whiskey history.

Cecil starts the book with a high level overview of many topics that others have written entire books about.  For example moon shining, rum running and moon shine running, prohibition and speakeasy culture are only given a passing glance as Cecil moves toward his main focus of the book, bourbon history.  He covers the history of the bourbon makers starting with where they came from (largely Ireland and Scotland), when they came, and why they started distilling in the first place.  While, Cecil devotes more pages to these topics it’s still just an intro to the meat of the book, the history of Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries from inception to present.

Over half of the book is comprised solely of Cecil’s carefully documented history of the distilleries of the area.  This section is broken down by county and district and further broken down by individual registered distillery.  The histories range from a scant paragraph for some to multiple pages for others.  It’s truly an amazing glimpse at the history of this classic American industry.

One thing that made a deep impression on me was what Prohibition did to the distilleries of the area.  I had always known that almost all distilleries closed during the period and most didn’t ever reopen, but it never really sunk in with me how many distilleries this really was until I read Cecil’s accounts.  In the accounts you often run across stories that read something akin to “closed for prohibition, buildings now used for steel mill”.  Further still, some distilleries were lost to Prohibition and knowledge of their whereabouts no longer exists.  The distilleries were truly lost to the sands of time.

If you’re a bourbon aficionado, or even an enthusiastic consumer there of, take a look at this book.  The history presented within is exceedingly well researched by a man who has over 40 years experience in the industry.  The stories that come from his personal experience and research are engaging and give you a real feeling for the depth of history in the bourbon industry.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.