A rollicking biography of bourbon whiskey that doubles as a rich and surprising history of America itself
Few products are so completely or intimately steeped in the American story as bourbon whiskey. As Dane Huckelbridge's masterfully crafted history reveals, the iconic amber spirit is the American experience, distilled, aged, and sealed in a bottle.
Bourbon's essential ingredient, corn, is indigenous to the Americas and had been fermented by its native peoples for centuries. At Jamestown, the earliest colonists applied their old-world distilling know-how to produce the first corn-based whiskey. After winning the American Revolution, George Washington turned his attention to establishing one of the new nation's largest distilling operations at his estate, Mount Vernon, making him a Founding Father of both the United States and American whiskey. Whiskey-swilling Scots-Irish immigrants had perfected bourbon's recipe in the rugged oak forests of the Appalachian frontier by the early nineteenth century. Kentucky-born Abe Lincoln received a liquor license in 1833 before turning his attention to politics; during the Civil War, soldiers on both sides liberally imbibed before, during, and after battle. Then, in cowboy saloons and gambling halls of the late-nineteenth century, bourbon put the wild in Wild West.
During the early twentieth century, Prohibition fa-mously sought to curtail America's drinking but instead expanded alcohol's reach as speakeasies run by gangsters and bootleggers welcomed women and made drinking more fashionable than ever. Bourbon-consumption reached record heights—both at home and abroad—as America came of age as a superpower after World War II and labels like Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam emerged as global brands on par with Coca-Cola. Just as bourbon fueled the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway during the first half of the twentieth century, the 1960s and beyond saw rock-and-roll bands and country stars knocking back bottles of Old Grand-Dad and reclaiming bourbon's unruly reputation. Today the story has come full circle with a renewed appreciation of craft-distilled whiskey produced in small batches, much as it was 150 years ago.
Bourbon has been at turns rebellious and traditional, liberating and destructive, regional and global; to know it is to understand the American story. Crack open Bourbon, and come along for the ride.