This is one of the first books I read when I was starting in the industry as archivist at United Distillers, in 1991. It is still one of my favorite books, not because the history is 100% accurate, but because it does show what they marketing departments of the distilleries were concentrating on in the mid 1960s. Kroll had access to many of the people involved in the industry at the time and discusses brands and distilleries that have since been lost to time. The book came out at a time when Bourbon was beginning to struggle in the market and the next two decades forced many of the distilleries Kroll discusses in the book to close. Some of the brands survived under new ownership and some simply faded away.
The book is an easy read. Kroll has a very entertaining writing style and he loves a good scandal. The photographs are very good and there are images of distilleries that are not found elsewhere today. It really should be part of every Bourbon library, but remember to take everything he writes with a grain of salt. There is good history, but there is also a lot of whiskey marketing told in the book as well.
Bluegrass, Belles, and Bourbon: A Pictorial History of Whisky in Kentucky by Harry Harrison Kroll. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1967, Contents, Index, Illustrated, pp. 224.
This book is one of the classics of bourbon history. Kroll is a master wordsmith who tells an interesting story and in this volume he recalls many interesting stories. Each chapter really is a stand alone article about a different subject in bourbon history. To add to this great narration he has added many illustrations to each chapter. Some of the photographs are indeed seen only in print in this book. The book’s only drawback is that Kroll got a lot of his information from the marketing departments of the distilleries. This means that some of the stories are based more upon legends than history.
Kroll has chapters that discuss many distilleries and people that are ignored in many of the books about spirits today. There are familiar names such as “The Mark of the Maker”, “The Caw of the Crow” and “The Hill of Heaven”. There are also chapters titled “Grand Old Name H. McKenna”, “The Ghost of Old Tom Moore”, “A Medley of Medleys” and “The Last of the Great Old Distillers”. This last chapter has an interview with Pappy Van Winkle and that alone makes the book worth having in your library.
This is a book that should be part of every great bourbon library. It has its flaws but it is still a very interesting read filled with many facts.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller