Reviewing ‘Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey’
As bourbon continues to thrive in the markeplace, American whiskey fanaticism has spilled over into the mainstream thanks to social media.
I mean, when did the Wall Street Journal start covering bourbon barrels?
This has led to new consumers entering the bourbon fold and geeks becoming grumpy, mad about Pappy Van Winkle’s impossibility to find and disgusted with unsavory distillery marketing practices. They often lash out on Twitter or Facebook, offering up rants that could humble the best Internet trolls in the business.
In “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey,” author Reid Mitenbuler feeds the bourbon community’s insatiable need for accurate and historical information.
“Bourbon Empire” delivers its share of controversy, connecting 1800s era moonshiners to the Ku Klux Klan and unraveling the truth about bourbon legacies.
With bourbon’s popularity, Mitenbuler’s timing is impeccable, but his voice presents a timeless style and a new way of looking at previously published material, while delivering new scholarly research that will open new doors for bourbon writers.
Mitenbuler shows how the United States and whiskey have always been intertwined and presents early American drama made for TV. One of my favorite “Bourbon Empire” themes is how the post-Civil War United States struggles to find its identity and bourbon becomes the south’s drink, from the creation of “Rebel Yell” to honor the Confederacy to the slow decline of Confederate-style bourbon marketing as time healed old wounds. Mitenbuler’s works in the Civil War and the rebuilding transcend the drink and give perspective to the fact that bourbon is more than an adult beverage, it’s woven into the very fabric that makes the United States unique.
As for the brown liquor we’ve come to know and love, Mitenbuler examines the subtle alcohol wars prior to Prohibition, as distillers and brewers squared off for the public’s affection instead of unifying to thwart Prohibition efforts. Mitenbuler writes that Adolphus Busch said distillers made the “worst and cheapest kind of concoctions.” If only Mr. Busch were around today to see what his name as become! I’ll take cheap bourbon any day over Busch beer, thank you very much.
“Bourbon Empire” digs deep to divulge the truth about the people donning bourbon labels — James C. Crow, Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, to name a few — and unravels the often questionable practices of bourbon business.
It’s in these moments of historical shenanigans that we find Mitenbuler’s true talent. He doesn’t slam bourbon brands for misleading consumers with marketing. Mitenbuler simply writes the truth. And that’s what all consumers want.