My library has many great books that are useful resources on the history and appreciation of American Whiskey. I thought it might be useful to have reviews of these books so others could look for and add them to their library.

Downard’s book is a classic reference book that should be part of any library. Its only problem is that there are so many additional items that could be added to the volume. It is out of print and unfortunately Downard passed away not long after publishing this book. I would love to see an expanded version with updated histories and additional information on brands and distilleries published.  An Encyclopedia of American Distilling would be a great project. If handled like other Encyclopedia projects I have worked on, it would involve a press such as the University Press of Kentucky hiring an editor and a staff and then soliciting people to write specific articles. Downard’s book would be a great starting place for such a book.

Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries by William L. Downard. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Contents, Preface, Appendixes, Bibliography, Index. Pp.268

William Downard created one of the best reference books available when he wrote this dictionary. It includes definitions of distilling and brewing terms such as:

“Flakestand: In the distilling process, this was the barrel or drum of cold water in which the condenser, or worm, was immersed to vaporize the alcohol. Modern methods of cooling have largely replaced this method, especially since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.”

Definitions such as this would make the book handy to have around, but he does not stop there. He gives a brief history of people, distilleries and brands involved in the brewing and distilling history, as well as the practical terms. The problem is, the history is not always correct. Much of the history was given to him by marketing departments from the distilling companies. He does use many outside sources and his pre-Prohibition histories are often very accurate.

As if the definitions are not useful enough, Downard goes an extra step with eleven separate Appendices that give even more information. These include charts of Alcohol Consumption from 1710-1795, History of the Federal Liquor Excise Tax and Grain and Molasses Distilleries in Operation on January 1, 1891, and their Daily Capacities. There is even more dealing with the brewing industry for those with that interest.

This book is a “must have” for a complete whiskey library. It would be nice if it could be expanded and updated with new information, but unfortunately Downard passed away not long after completing this book.

Photos courtesy of Rosemary Miller