Three weeks ago I purchased this small volume of work by Jim Murray. I had only read a few of his magazine articles before, but none of his books. Since I don't care about such things as scotch or canadian blends this book caught my fancy.
Chapter one is "The Spirit of the Frontier". Here Murray misses the mark completely. These are very exciting times. A new Republic born out of the blood of the common man with uncommon courage. A new world with a new nation and a new whiskey. Headstrong men & women armed with freedom, faith and flintlocks. You should be able to feel the Kentucky breeze on your face, taste the sweetwater, smell the smoke from the blackpowder and hear the thunder of the flintlocks. Murray conveys none of this. It is tough to breath life into the past, but these were very exciting times. There is no excuse for dullness here yet Murray is dull as a rubber knife.
There is a section between chapters two and three called "Making Bourbon" and it would seem that this should be chapter two and a half. Murray comes into his own here and acquits himself in good fashion. A lot of very good information on mashbills and the cooking thereof is to be found here. I enjoyed his investigative reporting on this subject.
Chapter three makes up the bulk of the book. Murray goes from distillery to distillery and offers up his tasting notes. This is what you really buy the book for. Having been to Kentucky several times myself and also having visited some of the distilleries it is easy to compare my own experiances to Murray's, and my own tasting notes to his. In this light Murray makes fine reading. For those of you who are familiar with my Blanton's tasting (containing my now famous pants treatise) I stated that "Blanton's PURRRS". On page 68 Murray offers up his take on Blanton's saying "... one to keep the discerning whiskey drinker almost purring with delight." I found this most amusing. I do like his tastings even when I disagree. His distillery descriptions are spot on, and his writing is of a good solid reporters style.
If you've not been to Kentucky nor to any of the distilleries and if you're not very good at whiskey tasting then this is the book for you! This is very good guide to modern American Whiskeys that for the most part is well written. Until someone writes a better book this will just have to do.
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.