Distiller magazine

Distiller_Summer 2014

Distiller magazine a publication of the American Distilling Institute, the Voice of Artisan Distilling; devoted to the craft spirits industry: vendors and distillers alike.

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124 distiller BOOK Reviews C olin Spoelman is the Master Distiller of Kings County Distillery and author of e Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How to Make and Drink Whiskey. Spoelman grew up in the dry Harlan County of eastern Kentucky. While the region had a long history of moonshining, Spoelman didn't try it for himself until he moved to New York. While Spoelman worked in film, architecture and perfume, the Kings County Distillery grew from an idea, to a hobby to a full time business that has earned a good deal of commercial and critical success. Like other recent books on food and drinks, the cover art is print- ed directly on the binding, which avoids the customary dust jacket. But unlike other recent books, the art and text are printed onto a cloth binding that gives it a pleasant texture. e interior of the book is equally striking with bold red highlights, diagrams and chapter breaks. Spoelman and David Haskel pack quite a bit of information in the book's slim, well-organized 224-page frame. It includes the basics of what makes whiskey unique, its history, a survey of the large Kentucky distilleries and some notable Craft distillers, how to make moonshine on a small scale, and whiskey recipes. Despite this breadth, e Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining is like a welterweight prizefighter – zero fat and packs a punch. e two strongest sections of the book are "A History of Whis- key," and "How to Make Whiskey." A student of whiskey history will appreciate that the book's history chapter doesn't repeat the same old tired stories about Kentucky. Spoelman and Haskel includ- ed great stories about distilling in New York and the mid-Atlantic states that have equal claims on the history of US whiskey. Spoel- man's chapter on how to make whiskey is clear and easy to follow. Anyone who has home-brewed a batch of beer will recognize many of the steps involved in mashing and fermenting distiller's beer. e description of the distilling phase has thorough instructions that demystify the process. e one question that repeatedly came to mind while reading the book was; how Spoelman can tell his story and not get into legal trouble. Spoelman and Haskel are clear about the illegality of home distilling but it is unclear why they or other moonshiner-turned-distillers can publicize their stories without le- gal consequence. e Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining, would make a great addition for a wide variety of readers. Fans of Kings County Distillery, homebrewers interested in adding a new hobby, or whiskey enthusiasts who wants to better understand the process of distillation will all likely find the book useful and educational. Spoelman and Haskel have produced a great book and hopefully they will collaborate on another. THE KINGS COUNTY DISTILLERY GUIDE TO URBAN MOONSHINING: HOW TO MAKE AND DRINK WHISKEY Colin Spoelman and David Haskel New York: Abrams, 2013 Hardcover/224 pages ISBN 978-14197099-0-6 Available @ Amazon C lay Risen is the editor for the Op-Ed section of the New York Times, and he has written for a number of publications including e Atlantic and Smithsonian magazines, and authored A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He is also the author of the blog Mash Notes where he writes about his passion for whiskey. From this research and a desire to inform those interested in learning more about the growing panoply of whiskey options in the US, he wrote American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit. e book is well-executed. As a physical object, American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye is beautifully constructed with counter-relief gold type and color photographs of about 200 whiskey bottles on high- gloss paper. While Risen suggests the reader stick the book in their back pocket as they head out to the bar, the book seems a bit big for that. Perhaps the future paperback version will be compact enough. e text of the book is organized into two major components: an introduction, and tasting notes. e introduction covers the history and methods of whiskey production in the United States from its first appearance in the colonies to the current whiskey renaissance. While it is very well researched and written, it also seemed an odd choice to have a 70+ page introduction rather than split the already segmented material into separate chapters. Before the section on tasting notes, Risen included a short tutorial on how to read a whis- key label. is is an important addition considering that he wrote the book for the un/under-trained whiskey drinker. However, this section could have been stronger if Risen had also explained how to read the back label and used more than one example. e majority of the book is comprised of tasting notes for 206 American whiskeys, bourbons and ryes. e reviews are organized by brand name and each includes a short description of brand in- cluding if they are from a distillery or merchant bottler. e reviews are brief and boxed into separate sections that allow the reader to get a good deal of information at a glance. Each whiskey is rated from NR (not recommended) to Four Stars (excellent) and given an approximate price range with one to four dollar signs. Some of the reviews were a bit puzzling considering that a whiskey described as tasting of asphalt and burnt tire got over three stars. Risen acknowl- edges that each person's palate is different and creates a subjective frame of reference when drinking. To combat this, he often tasted the whiskeys with other people to approach a more objective anal- ysis. With any new book of reviews it's a good idea to sit down with the book, crack it open and drink some samples and compare your experience with the notes. In this way, the reader can get an idea if the author's palate and vocabulary for describing spirits are compat- ible with their own. If it is, then it can be reasonably sure that the tasting notes and ratings will match the reader's tastes. I, for one, am looking forward to tackle this fun and arduous task with American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye at my side. AMERICAN WHISKEY, BOURBON & RYE: A GUIDE TO THE NATION'S FAVORITE SPIRIT Clay Risen New York: Sterling Epicure, 2013 Hardcover/304 pages ISBN 978-1-4027984-0-5 Available @ Amazon by Eric Zandona

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