My Gentlemen’s Drinking Lounge is now complete. As I’ve expanded from single malt Scotch to spirits in general, six new reference books have been added to the room’s whiskey library. In the next few blog posts, the worlds of bitters, botany, and beautifully crafted cocktails from bygone eras will be explored, along with a bit of science, cultural history, and humor. The posts will not be reviews, rather, a heads up about new books available for whiskeyphiles. They are all easily available on the Internet.
The Science of Booze
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Boozy, breezy, and brilliant is this very thorough journey, much of it through the lens of a microscope, of wine, beer, and spirits. Beginning with lowly, but crucial fungi and yeasts, Rogers presents the subject more as a great read rather than a reference book. Science and wit are as balanced and rich as fine single malts. The author addresses the difficulty reviewers have in describing flavors (aroma and taste) of various liquids, due to the limitations of analogy. He cites a hilarious, at least to me, example of this from an article in the Journal of Wine Economics entitled “On Wine Bullshit” (page 135 if you’re interested). Some reviewers of this excellent book use hackneyed descriptions such as “spirited tour”, “distills history”, and “… most books on booze are diluted”, so I’ll add my own: this is a fun read because of Rogers’ intoxicating enthusiasm for the subject.
A Cultural History of Alcohol
Over 500 pages, spanning 10,000 years of humans’ link to alcohol, over six continents, this book is an epic read. Scanning the index alone is worth the price of admission. Where else can one find the likes of Barbara Walters, George Washington, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Snoop Dogg in the same place, all with a connection to alcohol in society?
A blend of facts mixed with, and supporting fascinating historical anecdotes make for an engaging page-turner for anyone seriously interested in how we have arrived at our relationship with beer, wine, whiskey, and beyond. Whiskey’s role in commerce, culture, and medicine is well chronicled. The fortunes of John Jacob Astor and the fur trade, the boatmen of the Mississippi River, comedic icon W. C. Fields would not have been possible without their association (dependence?) on whiskey. According to the U.S. Government’s dietary guidelines (2005), in part: “In middle-aged and older adults, a daily intake of one to two alcoholic beverages per day is associated with the lowest all-cause mortality.” Balancing the very real dangers of over imbibing and hangovers with a bit of humor, Gately cites the plight of Disney’s beloved Dumbo. After drinking a pail of water containing moonshine, our pachyderm ‘s plight explodes on the screen with dizzying animation of bubbles that play music, morph into flowers, and, in the end, lead to his ability to fly.
Our relationship with whiskey may be best summed up by Mark Twain:
“How solemn and beautiful is the thought that the earliest
pioneer of civilization, the … leader of civilization, is never
the steamboat … never the railway, never the newspaper, …
never the missionary, but always whiskey!”