Every era gets a chapter, comprising a few pages of written history and a few recipes for “cocktails of the times,” contributed by well-known bartenders from major cities across the country. There are also brief profiles of some “distilling legends”: Heaven Hill’s Shapira family, Margie and Bill Samuels; Booker Noe; and Pappy van Winkle.
The artwork is definitely the focus of The Art of American Whiskey, but the text makes it a complete book. Rothbaum includes a short bibliography — Veach, Cowdery, Lubbers, you many know the names — if you need more than an hour’s reading on the topic, but he himself covers the story in broad strokes and a straightforward portorial style, throwing in a bit of editorializing suitable to the subject:
[After World War II, b]rands did everything they could to get bottles back on the shelves. On February 9, 1947, the New Yorker ran a story about the American Distilling Company petitioning the Connecticut Supreme Court to approve its Private Stock Whiskey bottle label. The front label was regal and talked about the history of the brand, but on the smaller label on the back of the bottle was the truth: “Whisky colored and flavored with wood chips. This whisky is less than one month old.” The court, fortunately, did not rule in the American Distilling Company’s favor.
The final chapter does a good job at covering both the major players and the craft distillers, with a wide variety in bottle and label design, from Four Roses Single Barrel and Maker’s 46 to Hillrock and Tin Cup.(Implicit in the pictures but not really discussed in the text is the relatively recent increase in bottle variety to help brand whiskeys.)
The Art of American Whiskey will add a key visual dimension to a whiskey book collection — and a respectable amount of historical information, too, particularly to a collection that’s missing some of the classic sources Rothbaum references.
This edition is a keeper.
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