When Gary and Mardee Regan were working on this book, I was the North American archivist at United Distillers. They came to the archives to gather history on the brands and the distillers that made the whiskey. I helped them find documents and photographs, not only at the United Distillers Archive, but also at the Filson Historical Society and other places that had historical information on the subjects. The result of their research is a book that may be dated, many of the brands they review are no longer around or have changed hands over the years, but still a book every whiskey enthusiast should own. It is a classic book on Bourbon.
The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskey by Gary Regan and Mardee Haiden Regan. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1995. Contents, Glossary, Bibliography, Index, Illustrated, Pp. 364.
The Book of Bourbon is the result of a very ambitious project. The Regans set out to write a book that would tell the history of bourbon, the history of the distilleries and their brands, provide tasting notes for those brands, recipes to cook with and mix drinks with bourbon and information about visiting the distilleries. They succeeded in achieving these goals for the most part. The book is designed well and simply looks good on the shelf. It is illustrated with many photographs in both color and a sepia toned antique finish.
The book starts with a chapter on the history of American whiskey distilling. This history is accurate and well researched, but still only a brief sketch of the history. After all it had to fit in a single chapter. They left many of the details for a later chapter where they discuss the brands. With each brand they told some of the history of the brand and the people who created the brand. As a whole, there is a lot of history to be found in the Book of Bourbon.
There is a chapter on how whiskey is made. This chapter is followed by their guide to brands from A to Z. With each brand they discuss the brand of today, give its history and then tasting notes for most of the expressions of that brand. The tasting notes are good but often get a little corny with the description. They don’t try to rate the product (Tennessee and rye whiskey is also found in this book) with any type of scale other than to give their opinion on how it should be used (whiskey and coke, Manhattan or straight).
They devote a whole chapter to tasting whiskey and holding a formal tasting. They also have a chapter for cocktails and a chapter for cooking with whiskey. They finish the book with a guide to visiting Kentucky and Tennessee and how to find the distilleries and other places of interest such as Churchill Downs, The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and The Filson Historical Society. They end with a very good index to make finding information in the book easy.
This is another good book to have in a bourbon library. It contains a great deal of information about every aspect of Bourbon, Rye and Tennessee whiskey. Its only fault is that it is too short, leaving the reader wanting to learn more.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller