When I started Cask Malt, I envisioned a review site mostly about whiskey and occasionally about related topics. History, science, barware, the really important stuff. Books never crossed my mind. But while on vacation last week, I grabbed Bourbon Curious for my Kindle for some poolside reading. About halfway through the book, I thought, “Hey, this is pretty good. I should review this.” So here you have it, my first book review. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more book reviews. I’m reading Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire right now. Expect a review soon.
Fred Minnick is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author, contributor, and whiskey judge. To date, he’s written six books, including the acclaimed Whiskey Women. He serves as a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the World Whiskey Awards. So, it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.
Bourbon Curious is a little bit history, a little bit ingredient description, and a lotta tasting notes.
In Part One, Minnick introduces bourbon as both a spirit and a culture. Mythology and mystery are explained and history is explored. A full chapter is devoted to Bourbon Politics –a chapter that might be more aptly titled “Bourbon Marketing.”
Part Two offers a primer on the ingredients, equipment, and processes that make up bourbon: corn, rye/wheat, malted barley, water, yeast/fermentation, stills/distillation and wood/maturing. For a new bourbon appreciator, this is perhaps the most important material in the book. This part takes the reader from grain to glass. It explains how every facet of mashbill, fermentation, distillation, and maturing create the experience of bourbons. Minnick spends a bit too long discussing the GMO corn debate. However, this is certainly one of the loudest topics in food sourcing right now. So, its impact on spirits deserves consideration.
Part Three is a new bourbon drinker’s best resource in this book. In these pages, Minnick first offers a introduction to tasting and evaluating bourbon including an A to Z list of characteristics. The following chapters break bourbons up into Grain-Forward, Nutmeg-Forward, Caramel-Forward, and Cinnamon-Forward categories. There’s also a chapter on Select Limited Editions and Special Releases. Individual bourbons and bottlings are reviewed in a standardized format that includes both review notes and production details. The majority of the reviews are for bottles that most readers will be able to find at their best local liquor store or bottle shop. This is a fantastic resource for anyone still trying to expand their new collection. Find a bottling you know and like, and compare Minnick’s notes in the same category to find your next bottle.
Finally, there’s an appendix with an exhaustive brand history. While you won’t find any tasting notes here, it is interesting to learn how some of our favorite brands really started (myths and marketing aside) and who holds the keys to the kingdom now.
This is a book for the new(er) bourbon enthusiast. The veteran aficionado with broad experience of the major distillers won’t find much new information here. But those who are still in search of a better understanding of bourbon, its production, and best examples, will find a lot to love here. Fred Minnick has given us a useful, down-to-earth reference in Bourbon Curious.