September is, through an act of the United States Congress in 2007, National Bourbon Heritage Month. Along with wine and other regular articles, I will be sharing occasional postings on my favorite spirit, Bourbon, through the entire month.
While I don’t drink a lot of spirits, I do have a couple of favorites. My absolute favorite, of which Single Malt Scotch (the peatier the better) is only a close second, is good old American Bourbon.
Because I enjoy it so much, I decided to get much more educated about it and start reading books on the subject. I think I have read a total of six books on whiskey, most of which were specifically about the history and business of Bourbon. I felt that I needed to know the mechanics of Bourbon as well.
About Bourbon Curious
I’ve learned about Bourbon tasting, flavor profiles, grain origins, nose, palate, etc. in reading Bourbon Curious by author Fred Minnick. In other words, this is the Bourbon equivalent of a wine study manual.
I first purchased Bourbon Curious on audible.com shortly after it first appeared on that platform. Although it was originally published in 2015, it wasn’t until this year that audible.com presented it. I found it to be fascinating and enlightening and knew it to be different from the other Bourbon books that I had read.
It is broken down into three parts, with a total of nine chapters and an introduction, an appendix on brand histories, notes, bibliography, a comprehensive index, a minuscule “About the Author” paragraph, and acknowledgments.
Part One. History, Legends, and Contemporary Truths
The first part is about Bourbon politics, much of which I already knew from previous readings. It touches on the problems with the know-it-all bar boor (love this!), the different styles of Bourbon (Straight, Blended, Bottled-in-Bond, etc.), and whether or not Jack Daniel’s is actually Bourbon. The answer, which I’m not going to share here because you need to read the whole book, is fascinating and settles the question once and for all. Mostly.
The chapter on Politics is just that, going all the way back to George Washington, the problems of Prohibition, and modern-day issues. We’re talking actual federal, state, and local governments.
Part Two. Sources of Flavor
Let’s just say that GMO corn does Bourbon no favors, and the reasons why verify and vindicate my feelings about GMO products in general.
Part Two has two chapters – one is Pre-Fermentation and the other is entitled Yeast, Distillation, and Wood. What that covers are the grains, the yeast(s), types of distillation, and, of course, the wood that is used in making Bourbon, which is unused American Oak and nothing else.
One of the most interesting reads is the discussion on GMO corn and whether it affects the nature of the taste of Bourbon. Let’s just say that GMO corn does Bourbon no favors, and the reasons why verify and vindicate my feelings about GMO products in general.
The Yeast, Distillation, and Wood chapter is an extensive, textbook-style read on how to make high-quality Bourbon. It is engrossing reading, especially for the would-be student of Bourbon. This is easily comparable to just about any tome on wine that is worth its salt. Excellent chapter.
Part Three. Tasting
This part begins with the chapter How to Taste Bourbon, and it absolutely must be read before continuing on. Once again, it’s an academic tome on how to taste Bourbon, and this is where this book really speaks to my wine lovers soul!
This chapter addresses the various types of flavors, how the grains affect the Bourbon – and I mean more than just corn – and it really speaks about specific styles of Bourbon. Those styles include grain, nutmeg, caramel, and cinnamon-forward characteristics. This is absolutely fascinating, and while the budget doesn’t necessarily allow me to run out and buy each and every type of Bourbon to taste – although I would love to! – it gives me an idea of what to expect when purchasing a particular brand of Bourbon. It also tells me why I like the brands that I do, because each distillery is known for its own particular style.
I found that the author’s tasting notes were thorough and easy to understand, particularly as someone who reads and writes tastings notes on wine.
From Audible to Real Book
I initially purchased Bourbon Curious through my membership with audible.com. It was absorbing listening, but partway through the book, I knew I had to purchase a copy that I could hold in my hands.
While listening to the book gave me a lot of information, I missed the illustrations, the photos, the ability to take notes, and the lists of information that just aren’t available in the audible product.
The book is a small one, not very thick, but it has tons of information about Bourbon, the history of Bourbon in Kentucky, and, surprisingly, not a lot of information about the author. However, a little bit of digging showed me that Fred Minnick is indeed quite the expert on Bourbon, as well as other whiskeys. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I had already read one of his later works Bourbon: The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of an American Whiskey (2016).
If there is any place where I would say there could be a little bit more information, it would be about Bourbons from other states since Bourbon can only be made in the US. Contrary to popular opinion, every state in the Union can make Bourbon; however, many true aficionados believe that only Kentucky can make the best.
And in Conclusion…
As an aside, Bourbon is a protected name that can only be used to describe a particular style of whiskey made in America. We can take the French and Italians’ game and take it back to them. If Bordeaux is only French, if Chianti is only Italian, then, dammit, Bourbon is only American.
If you have any interest at all in Bourbon, most of the other books will give you a good history of Bourbon, and you will find that there is a similarity in each of them. Bourbon Curious, on the other hand, is unique. Its exploration of the “mechanics” of making and tasting Bourbon make this book well worth reading.
If you are interested in purchasing it, be sure to click on the Amazon link below. I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised and entranced by this book.
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