Every Bourboneer worth their mash bill knows that truly loving bourbon is to understand bourbon. Taking the time to educate oneself and absorb the wealth of knowledge available makes you a better bourbon drinker and, in fact, makes you a Bourboneer. There is so much wonderful information out there on the subject that it’s difficult to determine where to begin without feeling overwhelmed. Initially, I took to the internet, searching websites and links under the broad subject of bourbon. However, I quickly realized that without a foundation, that facile knowledge of whiskey as a distilled spirit, so much of what I researched was lost in translation or didn’t resonate enough to retain. That’s when I went to the professionals (the Bourboneer Operators and Masters). Amassing a small reference library of my own was the only way personally to benefit and learn at the depth I desired.
Accumulating enough material to form your own library may not be what you have in mind. Quite frankly it can be rather expensive. So, I have taken the liberty in providing what I believe to be “essential hardware” as a starting point for your bourbon education. Nothing will ever top a formal and practical learning atmosphere but there is a lot of outstanding material available to the public to get you on your way. Here is what I put together (in terms of a college course it would be similar to a Bourbon 101).
I believe, as with any good education, a knowledge of the parent subject is very important. Therefore, my first suggestion would be to educate yourself on Whiskey in the broad sense of a distilled spirit. In that vein, there are two (2) definitive books I strongly recommend. As a caveat they are extremely comprehensive. But if so inclined then “Whisk(e)y” by Stefan Gabanyi or “Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide” by Michael Jackson are essential. These offerings are truly an entire education in and of themselves. Check them out but approach them as if you’re going to school:) However, as someone who seeks a more condensed or specialized read, one revolving around American whiskey, you absolutely can’t go wrong with “American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit” by Clay Risen.
I love this book and have read it cover to cover more than once. Not only does Risen knit together the historical fabric of American whiskey, he provides a lesson into how it’s made and the difference between the types of whiskey. The second half of the book is an actual guide to “profiles, ratings and tasting notes for more than 200 whiskeys.” I use this as my “go to” reference and have done so in many of my articles. I’d recommend “American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit” to anyone seeking a solid understanding of American whiskey as well as an introductory experience for a knowledge driven bourbon education.
Once you feel comfortable with your understanding of whiskey, it’s time to refine your research to bourbon. Dave Huckelbridge’s “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit” and Wall-Street Journal Best Selling author, Fred Minnick’s “Bourbon Curious” are two reads that don’t disappoint. Huckelbridge immediately captures you with a detailed history of bourbon, masterfully seasoning your experience with little known and intimate facts of it’s creation. I was captivated from page 1. Minnick’s work provides a similar history lesson yet takes pride in deflating many of the existing “myths” that often mislead those curious about bourbon. Minnick also let’s you in on many of the distiller’s recipes and production methods, including a sample tasting guide to assist you in the principles of enjoying bourbon.
Another crucial asset in furthering your bourbon education is a subscription to “The Bourbon Review” magazine. I have an online subscription but find myself collecting the hard copies as well. From the textured cover, to the interesting stories and stunning pictures, it’s hard to put down. The Bourbon Review supplies the cultural, artful side of bourbon’s heritage, both past and present. Each issue allows you to remain steeped in the ever-growing bourbon lifestyle.
Finally, as one of my favorite selections, “The Kentucky Bourbon Experience: A Visual Tour of Kentucky’s Bourbon Distilleries” by Leon Howlett, is a different style of book. While my other recommendations successfully focus on bourbon history, production and characteristics, renown photographer Howlett uses his offering to deliver a more visceral sensation to the reader. The “Kentucky Bourbon Experience” visually tours the eight (8) distilleries that make up the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT) and gives an overview of each distillery to include a brief history and look into the product and production methods. This book is visually stunning! I feel transported to bourbon country with the turn of every page.
I hope you find time to enjoy these Bourboneer recommendations. They have been the essential hardware in developing the fundamental ground work of my ever growing education. However, there are so many equally wonderful publications to choose from don’t limit your search to just these offerings. Find the right book for you and your level of interest. But if you are looking to build a solid understanding of the American whiskey we love so much, there is no better place to start.
– The Bourboneer
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Clyde Mays Alabama Style Whiskey, 42.5% ABV or 85 proof (no age statement) Conecuh Ridge Distillery, Auburndale, Fl.
References: American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit, Clay Risen, 2013 New York, NY. Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit, Dave Huckelbridge, 2014 New York, NY. Bourbon Curious, Fred Minnick, 2015 Minneapolis, MN. The Kentucky Bourbon Experience, Leon Howlett, 2012 Morely, Mo. The Bourbon Review Magazine, Summer 2016.