A mirthful, erudite appreciation of bourbon and its striking history.
Journalist Huckelbridge may sound like a blend of Sam Elliott’s gravelly chuckle and the down-home narrator of old Disney cartoon movies—“So here we are—arriving at last at that ‘big bang’ moment your Faithful Author promised the eager reader at the chapter’s onset”—but the man knows his bourbon from his rye and his small-batch ambrosia from his grain alcohol cut with sulfuric acid and cream of tartar. In this entertaining tour d’horizon of bourbon’s birth and long, healthy life, the author dispels plenty of bogus history—bourbon is not America’s Founding Drink; that would be rum—on his way to uncovering the drink’s roots, its peregrinations, its popularity and its recent rebirth as the boutique booze of choice, “with its contrived authenticity and hints of ironic hipsterdom.” Bourbon became the nation’s hard drink for one reason: corn. By the time the colonists had survived their first Jamestown winter—the few who did, that is—they had figured that out, and 400 years provided ample room for a number of good bourbon stories to take shape, which Huckelbridge tells with éclat: how the drink fueled the Hatfield-McCoy fight, its part in the settling of the frontier by the Scots-Irish, how the long journey to market gave it the aging the impatient distiller neglected, and how distilleries played a part in the war effort (“Plan on softening up those fortifications on Guadalcanal before your boys go? For each and every 16-inch naval shell that comes off the line, 19¾ gallons [of industrial alcohol] are required”). In one of the more sharp-eyed chapters, Huckelbridge tells the tale of how class and ethnic bigotry played a leading role in the passage of Prohibition and how the need for tax revenues made Congress see the light through the amber liquid.
A snappy history of the popular spirit’s rise and continued ascent.