Summer Reading List: New Whisky Books

When we were kids, teachers would send us home with lists of books to read over the summer. No one is assigning required reading to grown-ups, but many of us still want some recommendations. If you’re looking for great whisky books, check out these four newly published tomes, covering everything from serious whisky geekery to planning a great whisky party. Whether you’re stuck at home, sunning on the beach, or hiding away in a mountain retreat, crack the spine and enjoy a few hours deep in the pages.

4 New Whisky Books to While Away the Summer

Whiskey Master Class: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, and More
by Lew Bryson ($27)

Whisky writer and former Whisky Advocate managing editor Lew Bryson follows up his first whisky book with this new volume, equally comprehensive but with a different approach. Where “Tasting Whiskey” offered a broad survey and introduction to the art and practices of whisky appreciation, “Whiskey Master Class” takes a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details: the stuff of whisky geeks’ dreams. Here you’ll find meticulous explanations of geosmin (an organic compound found in water that can give whisky an off flavor) and the bubble cap (a part of the tray inside a column still that helps regulate distillation speed and increases copper contact).

After introducing the “syllabus,” the book explores whisky styles and production—from grain to bottle—chapter by chapter, with three chapters on distillation alone (one about the process, the others about the pot still and the column still) and a chapter devoted to the people working every step of the way. Bryson also explores “the intangibles”—topics like marketing, packaging, and labeling—and tacks on a brief chapter about tasting. Color photos and sidebar tasting notes of various whiskies reinforce the main text without distracting from it. Bryson peppers the educational material liberally with quotes and anecdotes from master distillers, blenders, and other whisky experts, which lends a homey, cozy feel: We’re all sitting around shooting the breeze over a few drams, chuckling at the quips of people like Ardbeg’s Bill Lumsden, describing an experimental run of the usually smooth spirit as “Ardbeg Big & Chunky.”

Bryson’s warm, inclusive writing renders complex topics easy to understand, like why a copper still periodically wears out and has to be replaced: “It literally gives itself away to make our whiskey taste better.” (Though if you’re looking for tasting lessons about the different chemical compounds that yield flavors and aromas, you’ll find very little; Bryson readily admits he’s neither equipped to explain these, nor particularly interested in doing so, as most readers won’t understand them either.) He promises in the introduction that even the most sophisticated whisky lovers will “find things in this book you don’t know”—and if that’s true for this whisky magazine writer and editor, it’s certainly going to be true for just about everyone. Unless, of course, you already know what a dephlegmator does. —Susannah Skiver Barton

Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon? Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties
by Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler ($30)

The Fall 2019 issue of Whisky Advocate was all about entertaining with whisky, but if you want to take your party planning a step further, this highly visual guide from Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler has plenty of ideas. The book covers everything from table setting to bar building, with party tricks throughout. “We wanted to share our Kentucky family secrets related to entertaining and our insights into everything bourbon,” the introduction explains.

Stevens and Reigler leave no place setting unturned as they detail the ins and outs of assembling your best décor, perfecting your presentation, and anticipating your guests’ needs before they arise. As the title suggests, food pairings are emphasized, with a focus on traditional Kentucky dishes like country ham and beaten biscuits. There are suggested bourbon flights, pairing instructions broken down by flavor, and even recipes for appetizers, small bites, entrées, sides, and desserts.

Whether you’re throwing a bourbon tasting or a whiskey-themed dinner, there are helpful pairing tips, visual representations, and handy guides like choosing the best cocktail garnishes for certain months and typical aromas associated with bourbon and corresponding food items. There is even a chapter dedicated to how Kentucky distilleries like Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve entertain, including signature recipes like Maker’s Fancy Bourbon Punch and Woodford Reserve Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Butter Sauce.

“The best form of bourbon etiquette is simply to make people feel comfortable,” Stevens and Reigler write. “Entertaining should be a reflection of your personality, the way you live, the interaction of friends and family—your lifestyle.” Decades of expertise are distilled here into a comprehensive guide that puts bourbon at the center of your party and addresses everything needed to complement it in style. —Ted Simmons

American Spirit: Wild Turkey Bourbon From Ripy to Russell
By David Jennings ($25)

Whiskey blogger and Wild Turkey superfan David Jennings has written what he describes as a “love letter” to the whiskey he most adores, in which he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the brand; the people who built it; and its panoply of offerings, from the core bourbon and rye lineup, recent limited editions, some vintage and export expressions, and even Wild Turkey liqueurs.

Driven by his own desire to explore what makes Wild Turkey special—and to debunk the fallacy that it’s a whiskey mainly for “roughnecks, old men, rock stars, and frat boys”—Jennings delves into how Wild Turkey originated, starting in the early 1830s with the struggles of brothers James and John Rippey after they left Ireland for America in search of a better life. He covers the distillery’s modern history, from now-master distiller Jimmy Russell’s first days as an employee to the appointment of his son Eddie Russell as co-master distiller in 2015, and even up to the release, in 2019, of the first rye whiskey in the Wild Turkey Master’s Keep collection. Jennings takes his reader on a highly personal, yet deeply researched, journey in which he aims to inspire a greater appreciation for Wild Turkey whiskey—and a trip to the local liquor store to pick up a bottle or two.

Jennings’ narrative is brought to life by dramatic shots of the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery by photographer Victor Sizemore, as well as historical photographs of various members of the Ripy family, Jimmy and Eddie Russell, and other key figures from the Wild Turkey saga. In an effort to appeal to both seasoned whisky drinkers and “Turkey newbies,” Jennings includes several classic cocktail recipes using Wild Turkey 101 bourbon and rye and a guide to exploring other Wild Turkey whiskeys, along with highly specific technical information about the distillery’s equipment, recipes, and other details. Pick up this book if you have any interest in Wild Turkey or bourbon history—or if you just want to see a young, athletic Jimmy back when he was known as “Russell the Muscle.” —Zak Kostro

The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries: The Portable Expert to Over 200 Distilleries and the Spirits they Make
by Davin de Kergommeaux and Blair Phillips CA$32 (US$25)

Journey across the Great White North, from Newfoundland to the Yukon, visiting hundreds of distilleries via this book, penned by Blair Phillips and Whisky Advocate’s lead reviewer for Canadian whisky, Davin de Kergommeaux. The volume provides an overview of all of Canada’s distilleries—from the tiniest craft outfits to the granddaddy of them all, Hiram Walker & Sons—organized by region, with handy maps for each. Each entry details background information on the distillery, with many also including tasting notes and cocktail recipes for featured spirits. While Canada is known for its whisky—especially rye—this comprehensive guide highlights a range of spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, and brandy.

De Kergommeaux and Phillips pepper the book with supplementary material, like profiles of experts in the Canadian distillery world, such as Don Livermore, master blender at Hiram Walker, and Alex Hamer, champion of micro-distilling. If blending stokes your curiosity, there’s a feature on the Diageo blending lab that walks readers through how the blenders at the spirits giant—which is the parent company of popular Canadian whisky Crown Royal—work.

Although the focus isn’t fully on whisky, even sections about other spirits can provide insights and education for whisky lovers, such as “This is Vodka?” and “Reimagining Gin.” Plus, if you’re finding the vast number of distilleries and the many spirits they produce overwhelming, there’s a handy distillery checklist at the end to keep track of everything. “The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries” is as organized as it is informative, and highlights the various and diverse distilleries that the Great White North has to offer. —Sam Stone

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