Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review

99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink

My sister-in-law just got me this book by Kate Hopkins for my birthday.  Obviously she knows me well (though I heard she did have a little help selecting it from her homebrewing boyfriend).  Ms. Hopkins has a well followed food blog, The Accidental Hedonist.  She was spurred to write the book by a story she heard about a man who paid $70,000 for a single bottle of whisky--Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch--at a hotel bar in Surrey, England.  The book is her journey, with a friend, across the world of whisky to find out why someone would do such a thing.  She visits distilleries in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  Interspersed with her descriptions of the distillery tours and all the whiskies she tasted is a pretty thorough history of whisky.  For me this book came at the perfect time in my own whisky journey, in particular because I am setting out to visit 3 distilleries on the Bourbon trail in just a couple of weeks.  True connoisseurs may find the tasting notes cheesy--she compares the Famous Grouse to "the high school cheerleader everyone was friends with but no one can remember what happened to after graduation"--and the history lessons nothing new.  But for most of us, the book is a wonderful portal into the whisky industry and a great history textbook.  The story about the distillery master at Glen Grant opening the secret safe of Major James Grant to share a special dram with Hopkins' and her friend is priceless.  But Hopkins' is not easily romanticized and keeps all of the tours and legends in the perspective of modern whisky marketing.  She does, however, go to some effort to procure a bottle of Buffalo Trace Cabernet aged whisky from their experimental line.  

At the end of the book she talks about the future of whisky and describes a Canadian whisky called Forty Creek that distills each grain--rye, barley, and maize--separately, then ages them in different  types of barrels before marrying them into the final product.  Anyone know where I can get a bottle?  I would recommend this book to anyone who likes travel literature, whisky, history, and/or good legends and stories.  But you don't have to take my word for it.  -Lavar Burton

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