While The Art of American Whiskey by Noah Rauthbaum may be little more than a coffee table book, I found it informative and interesting nonetheless.
So this was my first ‘whiskey’ book
Before I get into this review, I want to explain why I am so utterly lacking in Whiskey knowledge, when I know so much about other spirits. In the first bar I worked at where I became a bartender and discovered my passion for the industry we had: 5 vodka brands, 4 gin brands, 3 rum brands, 10 (or so) liqueurs, and at least 20 different whiskey brands. Even a woefully under stocked movie theater bar had 3 types of rye and 3 scotches… For someone who only began drinking after they turned 21 it was intimidating, to say the least.
With that in mind, I decided to focus on other liquors and learn their differences and nuances. Eventually this turned into learning their history and their cultures as well. All the while, I was avoiding whiskey entirely. Partly this is because I told myself there was so much to learn about whiskey that once I got started and it would be difficult to move onto something else. It was also partly a bit of spite too. In my part of the country amateur enthusiasts in the Whiskey world are infinitely more irritating than those of other liquors and it kind of put me off Whiskey for a long time.
Now, I will freely admit the whole ‘spite’ thing is a character flaw of mine. It’s the same one that has kept me from seeing classic movies such as The Goonies and Fight Club, along with the sole reason I don’t listen to Blink 182. But! The time has finally come and since my new job is requires whiskey knowledge (and not classic movies or hip bands), in this regard I have to put my spite aside and do some learning.
It was on sale
I had not intended for The Art of American Whiskey to be my first foray into the whiskey world, but I had it in my wish list and Amazon kindly informed me that it was on sale for $9, as opposed to the list price of $20. Ostentatiously, this book is the history of American Whiskey as told through classic and modern Whiskey labels. I’m no art historian by any means so I mostly had this book on list out of curiosity. What I got instead was a book on American Whiskey history that periodically showed me pictures of labels.
The good part
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. The Art of American Whiskey was easy reading, keeping you entertained and informed in equal measure. It was certainly more informative than I had hoped to get, at least as far as history knowledge and it was well focused enough that once done, I felt like I had a solid handle on whiskey culture in America. I also felt like it left the reader with plenty of new questions and the desire to find answers.
The Less good part
I was less pleased because, while the history was more directly useful to me, I was hoping for a greater emphasis on explaining the art behind the labels. Like I said before, I am no art historian. I don’t even qualify as an art enthusiast. To tell me that this label is exemplary of art styles of the 40’s and 50’s is… unhelpful. The book didn’t even really go into what made a label successful or otherwise, or even which labels were successful. While I’m sure that is more of a marketing standpoint, I doubt the world is ripe for a marketing book that directly addresses American Whiskey labels and their history… and if it is, please, please somebody write that and let me buy it.
A nice coffee table book though
The book was delightfully liberal with fun facts and brand history (though I am very curious as to whether or not certain brands were represented more through some sort of agreement) such as the in depth telling of how Makers Mark came to be or the fact that Heavens Hill is the largest family owned and operated distillery in the States (as of the time of writing). I would most certainly recommend this book to the casual enthusiast and probably to the more dedicated enthusiasts too, though with a grain of salt. It would make an excellent coffee-table or cocktail-table book and it certainly looks nice behind the bar.