Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler

Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey by Reid MitenbulerSummary: Clear eyed history of both pre and post-prohibition history of Bourbon.

I grew up in a non-drinking stream of Christianity. And then I went to Wheaton for college, which included a pledge not to drink. And from there to University of Chicago Divinity School, which was nearly the opposite (although I worked for a Drug and Alcohol rehab program through part of my grad school years so I mostly didn’t drink there either.) I was not particularly comfortable with alcohol personally, although I did not have any theological issues with it.

Slowly I become more comfortable with alcohol over time and tend toward the snobbish side of drinking, because it is more about the taste than the nostalgia. I have never acquired a taste for the non-craft beer. It seem natural that wine and bourbon, as well as some other spirits have been added to my repertoire.

Midtenbuler tells a fascinating story about Bourbon. And I use the ’story’ language intentionally. There is a line in the book where he says, ‘Even though reality is often less romantic…’. That is much of the story of the book. Bourbon likes to bill itself as an old drink and it’s naming and labeling is mostly trying to point to how old the recipes are or at least how old the name is.

But Bourbon is really a pre-prohibition and post-prohibition story. Prior to prohibition there were few brand names. Bourbon (and presumably most other alcohol) was a commodity. Brands were not particularly well known and in many cases there simply was no way of knowing what you were getting because individual bottling only started a bit before prohibition. Before that you brought your own containers to the store and filled them up with what the store had.

Today there are lots of different names on the bottles, but about 90% of the bourbon is made by one of eight companies that own virtually all of the big names. Like beer, the new craft distillers have helped renew interest and variety, but the economics of bourbon and other aged and distilled spirits require significant capital and time.

Bourbon Empire was interesting to me, because it told a good story about a drink that is fueled by its story. That may not be enough for other readers.

Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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