Mark Waymack and James Harris were the first people over twenty years ago to decide that American Whiskey would be a good subject for a book. I first met them when they were writing this book and they came to the United Distillers Archive to gather some history and possible images for the book. It is a favorite of mine for many reasons but the fact that it really is the book that started the boom in whiskey publications in the 1990s makes it special to my library.

The Book of Classic American Whiskeys by Mark H. Waymack and James F. Harris. Chicago: Open Court, 1995. Contents, Preface, Bibliography, Index, Illustrated. Pp.238.

Waymack and Harris are not professional “drinks writers” – they are college professors specializing in ethics and philosophy, respectively. They have the “day job” and wrote this book because they enjoy bourbon and its history. These facts alone make me respect the book more than one written by a professional “drinks writer”. They did not have to depend upon keeping the people in the industry happy to make their living. If they wrote something seen as offensive to a distillery manager or a brand manager, they do not have to worry about being denied access in the future as retribution.

The book starts off with a brief history of the distilling industry in the United States. This is followed with a brief description of how whiskey is made. Next is a chapter describing each modern distillery, a brief history and tasting notes on some of the products made at the distillery. There is also contact information for distillery tours. The following chapter does the same for Tennessee. The last chapter discusses how to hold a tasting and then gives some cocktail recipes and recipes for cooking with bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. All chapter have photographs to help illustrate the content.

Waymack and Harris did a fair job at what they wrote. They are not “professional spirit writers” so some of their tasting notes seem rather bland in comparison. They did a decent job at researching the history and were the first writers to question the Jack Daniel claim to being the “first registered distillery”. They visited the distilleries, talked with people, and did additional reading and research. The result is a book with history that does not simply echo what the marketing departments told them.

This book is a good starter book for a whiskey library. It is interesting and informative, but brief. Starting with The Book of Classic American Whiskey will provide a good background when delving deeper into books on American Spirits.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller