I am often asked “What books I should I buy when building a library on American whiskey”. I have put together this list of books that are a foundation of a good reference library. They cover history, but also the production of whiskey and tasting notes.
- The first book is of course, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. Yes I am promoting my own book, but I wrote this book as a concise history of the Bourbon industry in the United States. It is important to understand the history of the industry. It is a good book to start your library.
- The second book I recommend is Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (review here) by William L. Downard. It may be hard to find, but copies are still available in used bookstores. It is the closest book to an encyclopedia of the distilling industry. It contains articles on brands, distilleries and technical terms in the production of whiskey. I use it frequently when looking for brand or distillery histories.
- Third, I will suggest the 1889 book Practical Distiller by Leonard Monzert. It has been reprinted in paperback. It discusses the distilling process and is read by many people who are starting distilleries today. It contains a wealth of knowledge on distilling and blending whiskey and other spirits.
- Number four on my list is Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking by Henry G. Crowgey. This book is based upon Crowgey’s doctorial dissertation at the University of Kentucky. The book came out in 1971 and is still the best book on early American distillery history in print.
- My fifth choice is The Social History of Bourbon (review here) by Gerald Carson. It gives an accurate history of subjects such as the Whiskey Ring and Prohibition as well as the growth of the industry. It was printed in 1963, but has been reprinted by the University Press of Kentucky in paperback.
- Number six on my list is Bourbon in Kentucky: A History of Distilleries in Kentucky by Chester Zoeller. The book has histories of every distillery Zoeller could find records of in Kentucky. The book is valuable when trying to figure out what distillery was where at any particular era of distilling history.
- The seventh book on my list is The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys (review here) by Gary and Mardee Haidin Regan. The book first came out in 1995 and is a bit dated as to which distillery produced what brands, but it is still valuable for brand histories and doing tasting notes. Gary and Mardee produced many excellent reviews of American whiskeys in this book. Many of the labels no longer exist as they were discontinued when sold to other companies, but there are bottles of these labels still out there and the tasting notes will give you an idea as to how they taste. The chapter on how to taste whiskey is worth the price of the book.
- My last choice is a book on rye whiskey. An American whiskey library would not be complete without a book on rye whiskey and the most complete book on the subject is The Spirit of Rye (review here) by Carlo DeVito. There is a chapter on the history of rye whiskey in both the United States and Canada. There is a chapter on the distillation of Rye whiskey. Finally there are tasting notes for over 400 brands of Rye whiskey.
These eight books are a good solid foundation for any library of American whiskey. There are many other good books in the market, and they should be added as time and money allow, but I recommend you start with these eight books and build your library from there.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller