In 1998 Gary and Mardee Regan followed up their first Bourbon book The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys with this book. This book is very different from their first one in that though there is a brief history of Bourbon in the first chapter and a brief description of the distilling process in the second chapter, with the remaining chapters dedicated to the brands and the distilleries. They are listed in alphabetical order, with some tasting notes and ratings. Each brand has an image of the label with the basic information such as proof and age when there is an age statement. The Bourbon Companion offers the reader a glimpse of the Bourbons available at the end of the twentieth century and what they tasted like. It is interesting because many of the brands are now under new ownership and have changed in flavor profile or have been discontinued completely.

The section on the distilleries is also very interesting in that it gives the mash bills used by the distilleries, when they were willing to make them public, and such information as distillation and barrel entry proofs. Much of this information has changed as brands were purchased by different companies and they altered mash bills and entry proofs. The book is an historical record of what was happening in 1998 and of interest to those studying the changes in the industry.

The Bourbon Companion: A Connoisseur’s Guide by Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1998, Contents, Introduction, Glossary, Bibliography, Index, Illustrated, Pp.191.

This is the second bourbon book published by the Regans. The difference between this book and the Book of Bourbon is the emphasis on tasting notes. Approximately a third of the book deals with with the history of the product, how bourbon is made and how to taste bourbon.  

The two major sections of this book are an A-Z guide to brands and the A-Z guide to distilleries. The section on brands include tasting notes for each brand and ratings for the brand on what the reader assumes is a 1-100 scale. The problem with that is on a scale of 1-100 the average is 55. It would be assumed then that an average brand is then rated between 50 and 60. That is not the case here. The lowest rating seems to be 70 and there are a lot of brands in the high 90’s. Maybe the scale is based upon some formula using the square root of proof plus price as a base instead of averages based upon quality of product? Even so, the tasting notes are well written and the brands have nice illustrations of the labels.

The information on the distilleries is more useful with a brief history of the distillery and the mash bill for the product (or at least the mash bill provided by the distillery at that time). They also give contact information for the distillery and whether they give tours or not. This information is out of date now, but it is still some very good information to have if planning a trip to Kentucky.

The book ends with a very useful glossary of terms and then a listing of the bourbon by their ratings system. There is also an index to make finding the information in the book easier.

This is a book that looks good in your library if you believe in ratings for whiskey. For those that believe that ‘ratings are bull,’ then the Book of Bourbon would be the better choice of the Regan books.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller