Okay. I am not finished with it yet, but so far Charles K. Cowdery’s book on the history of bourbon, titled “Bourbon, Straight” is, well…can I give it the best compliment ever — interesting. It’s like Bourbon 101 — and it makes bourbon that much better, especially if you like to engage your mind and palate in your pursuits.
Who wouldn’t love a book that starts like this:
“Like sex, alcohol is one of those subjects where much of what people think is wrong.”
And even better the introduction is titled “Of Sex and Shellfish” — and when you get right down to it, what more do you need to survive — Sex, Shellfish and Bourbon! That sort of boils down (pun intended) life’s essentials.
I live on the coast (Savannah) and love oysters, shrimp, crabs and just about every other kind of shellfish. I also love reading and to be honest, it’s how I discovered bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle. If you’ve read other posts on this blog you know already that Walker Percy introduced me to bourbon and Wright Thompson showed me the secret that Pappy was the best bourbon out there.
However, Chuck Cowdery made me love and appreciate this brown spirit, even more. His overview of the history of America’s spirit is a must-read for anyone new to the bourbon game. Or if you’ve always been a bourbon lover, but never run across it be sure and get a copy pronto.
It’s that good, informative and yes, interesting. Cowdery writes about the roots of bourbon, the basics of whiskey, how the brown stuff really got its name, new charred oak barrels and bottling. But my favorite chapter so far is chapter eight, “An American Whiskey Sampling Guide.” The purpose of the chapter is to “help you sample the output of every American whiskey distillery.” He notes “such a guide is necessary because most distilleries sell essentially the same whiskey under multiple brand names, so if you buy bourbons at random you might end up tasting the same whiskey over and over, and miss others.”
He gives a value bourbon, a higher-shelf, and a rye (if available) from each of the 14 distilleries he names. That may have changed by now (the book was published in 2004) but it a great place to start if you want to take a journey around the American whiskey universe over the next several months.
I won’t name all the whiskeys he recommends here as you might not buy the book and read it and you need to. But I did discover that I had already sampled many of them.
Here are the ones I haven’t tried and look forward to sipping over the next few months.
- Old Grand-Dad 114 – Beam (Now owned By Suntory)
- Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond – Heaven Hill (Private, Family-owned)
- Russell Reserve’s 10 Year, 101 Proof Rye – Wild Turkey (Now owned by Campari)
- George Dickel No. 12 (Tennessee Whiskey) - George Dickel (Now Owned by Diageo)
- Virginia Gentleman 6 year 90 Proof – A. Smith Bowman (Now Owned by Sazerac)
- 100 Proof Old Forester – Early Times (Owned By Brown-Forman)
- Blanton’s – Buffalo Trace (Now owned by Sazerac)
If you’d like to purchase the book from Cowdery’s blog, go here. (And I don’t get a kickback.)
Now let me get back to reading this gem — and sampling a little taste of some more great bourbons.