Before Jim Murray started to write his annual releases of the Whisky Bible, he wrote the book Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey. He came to the United Distillers archive to do historical research. It was well researched and a very informative look at American Whiskey of the late 20th century. Murray’s tasting notes are concise but descriptive. It is interesting to look back at his notes of brands that have changed proof, lost age statements or simply been discontinued. He has many fantastic old photographs illustrating the book as well as those he took while visiting distilleries. Tasting notes have color photographs of the label at that time.

Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey by Jim Murray. London: Prion Books Limited, 1998. Contents, Index, Illustrated, Pp.272.

This is a book for those who love tasting notes. Jim Murray is a master wordsmith and his tasting notes reflect this talent. He has taken the distilleries and listed them in alphabetical order, gives some brief information about their brands and their history and does tasting notes for those brands in most expressions of the brand. He places color illustrations of many of the labels with his notes so the reader can be sure exactly what brand he is writing about. It truly is a book for those readers who like tasting notes.

He starts the book with a couple of chapters of historical background of American whiskey distilling. The history is brief but for the most part accurate. He is an Englishman trying to understand American history so the reader does have to forgive some statements such as Kentucky “having gained its independence in 1792, having begun the battle in the year of Boone’s memoirs”. The reader has to wonder what battle he is talking about. Even so, as a person who is a spirits writer and not a historian, he does a very good job at explaining the history.

The book looks good. It is well designed and colorfully illustrated. The book has many illustrations of old whiskey advertising from magazines as well as postcards and other forms of advertising.  It has an index that makes finding specific points very easy. It would have been nice if he had included a bibliography, but then again, this book is about tasting notes and they don’t need other sources. A book like this has value in a bourbon library if for no other reason, it looks good and is well-illustrated. However, if you like tasting notes, then it is a book that you really should read.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller