In Bars and in Books, American Whiskey Is on the Rise

Publishers Weekly
April 7, 2014

“I’m for anything that gets you through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s,” said the great American singer Frank Sinatra about one of the great American whiskeys. Or so say the ads on Jack Daniel’s new line of whiskey, Sinatra Select.

And just as the American whiskey industry seems to be collectively tapping into nostalgia, and bourbon sales continue to rise, publishers are stepping in to help guide and inform consumers.

Pubbing this month is Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge, and it’s just one in a spate of recently published books dedicated (at least in part) to American whiskies and bourbons.

“In a world of instant communication and slick surfaces, folks are rediscovering the kind of deep, enduring culture and unruly elegance that bourbon embodies,” said Peter Hubbard, Bourbon’s editor at William Morrow. “Also, it makes you feel nice.” Huckelbridge’s month-long book tour includes stops at bars and restaurants, as well as bookstores, so that bourbon tastings (some co-sponsored by distillers) can take place as part of the events.

Bourbon comes on the heels of American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit byNew York Times op-ed editor Clay Risen. The guide, packaged by Scott & Nix and published in November by Sterling Epicure, is already in its fourth printing, and it continues to get solid media coverage.

American whiskey and bourbon, the corn-based liquor aged in oak barrels, has been experiencing its biggest renaissance since before Prohibition. In 2013, global exports of bourbon and Kentucky whiskey topped $1 billionfor the first time, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, while revenues were up more than 10% domestically.

“There was a big shift in the 1960s from brown liquor to white, or vodka and gin,” says George Scott, publisher of Scott & Nix. “Whiskey was what your father or grandfather drank. Even James Bond drank vodka in Dr. No.”

The ’90s saw a shift back to “brown liquor” in the form of the more rarefied and expensive single malt scotch. But now American whiskeys and bourbons have taken over, especially with men.

“With whiskey, there is a sense of guys being guys that that doesn’t quite exist with other liquors,” said Scott. “And Prohibition and the South, where most bourbon is distilled, appeal to people’s sensibilities today. You can imagine these charred-oak barrels full of whiskey being snuck up to New York.”

Other new and forthcoming books that highlight American whiskey include Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; June);Whisky: The Manual by Dave Broom (Octopus/Mitchell Beazley; Apr.); and The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail by Robert Simonson (Ten Speed; May).

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough,” Mark Twain famously said. The same might be said of books about whiskey.