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  1. #1
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    Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    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.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  2. #2
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    Linn:

    "Chapter one is "The Spirit of the Frontier". Here Murray misses the mark completely."

    Agreed. Murray is a lot of things, but historian ain't one of them. Not only is his historical writing dull (if competent -- quintessentially Brit), it's often inaccurate. I won't hash over the details here as that's been done elsewhere (both here and on alt.drinks.scotch-whisky), but there are some factual errors that even the dullest witted of fact-checking interns ought to have caught. As much as I bash the Regans, at least their historical writings are accurate and detailed, if poorly written. Me, I'll take Waymack & Harris in this department.

    "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."

    Yep. He generally knows his stuff in this area, however there was a mention of "sugary enzymes" or some such thing that had a couple people scratching their heads as to what he was thinking. Otherwise a solid technical explanation of the distilling process.

    "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."

    Murray's tasting notes -- not just on American whiskeys but on Scotch, Irish, Canadian, et. al. -- are as accurate and insightful as tasting notes get. He's very clear, no BS, and seems to know his subject. Precisely the opposite of the Regans, Michael Jackson's Scotch books, and a couple other tasters. Even the writing in his tasting notes, while not displaying quite the, um, enthusiasm some straightbourbarians bring to theirs, is lively and entertaining, and conveys just how much he enjoys his "work."

    IMO, Murray's book is the first book on American whiskeys anyone ought to get.

    Stotz



  3. #3
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    Ryan good to see that you're still manning the outpost on the western theater of Greater Bourbonia! Yeah I've been playing by ear and flying by the seat of my pants for so long I thought I'd break down and buy some books. The best part has been that just by enjoying some thoughtful drinking; reading Chuck Cowdery's "Bourbon Country Reader" for two years, actually going to Kentucky a few times and participating here on the forum has given me a very solid base upon which to build. When I read books on bourbon I can be critical in a much more positive sense. Bourbon drinking is fun. Bourbon reading should be fun also. That's why when the bourbon is good and the muse is with me I like to post rambunctious tastings that are rollicking good fun! If some "oh so serious" stuffed shirt is offended - GOOD! Life's too short for bad bourbon. Bad books are a crime against the soul. I think Waymack & Harris may be next. Stay tuned.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  4. #4
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    Waymack & Harris is the one you want first. Then Jim Murray's. Mark and Jim (Harris)'s strengths are Murray's weaknesses and vice versa. They approach the subject as though they imagine the reader to be fascinated by who did what, and why did they do that, and how did that change things, and what if? They're not real great on tasting notes (like, I should talk?), but that's where Murray shines. The combination of these two books is dynamite. Unfortunately, Waymack & Harris' book is so out of date that it's almost an historic relic of its own. They REALLY need to publish a new edition. And this time, how about some better production values? Publishers Open Court (Chicago/LaSalle) must not have had much confidence in the book; it appears to have been originally printed only as a paperback and when it went into its second printing they hurriedly brought out a hard-cover edition... which is nothing more than the same paperback (even the same crappy paper) sewn into a hard cover. There's good photography in the book, but you'd never know it from the horrible reproductions on the pages. I spoke to Mark about a new edition some time ago, and he said they'd like to, but the publisher isn't at all interested in another bourbon book and wants them to do another project, I think about tequila.

    Both Linn and Ryan seem to wish the historic narratives of Murray's book were more exciting and vivid, and I'd have to add that Mark & Jim are only a relative improvement in that way. But their narrative and descriptive style is at least interesting and (I think) fun to read. If you want to REALLY get the feel of bourbon history (and Kentucky history in general), try and find a copy of an old novel by Irvin S. Cobb, called "Red Likker". It's a saga of the fictitious Bird family, from the early 1790's through today ("today" being 1929 when the novel was published). It tracks the Birds from Isham Bird's life as a pioneer trying to keep his family alive on the Western Border through the social and political world of a distilling empire which survived the War between the States, but not the curse of National Prohibition. It's not an easy book to read, because the style is very simplistic (along the lines of "Black Beauty") and in many ways it seems more like a brief overview for an epic movie than a complete novel. However, buried in there among the stilted conversations and two-dimensional characters, one can learn a great deal about what "family" meant on the frontier, and how that filters through generations of descendants. And along the way comes (at least I, as an outsider, think it does) a very deep understanding of what makes a Kentucky bourbon man tick. Really good book. You can find it in old libraries. I bought my copy from Amazon (they have a service where they locate out-of-print books; mine turned out to be a first edition, although not collectors' quality).

    I think that a home library with just these three books would be basically complete. Of course, more (the Regans, for example) couldn't hurt either.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    I agree with the endorsement of Red Likker, and also with the reservations expressed about it. While we're talking out of print, Gerald Carson's The Social History of Bourbon is well researched and a very entertaining read. None of the contemporary work on the subject can touch it.

    My problem with Waymack and Harris was that they seemed too solicitous of the distillers, sucking up to them at every opportunity. The Regans suffered from some of that too, while Murray may have gone too far in the other direction.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    On the subject of bourbon history, I'm pretty partial to my own stuff. I recommend my article All-American Bourbon in particular.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  7. #7
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    I'm kinda partial to your stuff, too, as you well know. All-American Bourbon is a really good example. For those unfamiliar with Charles K. Cowdery's work he is a contributing writer to several publications, and he himself has been publishing, since 1993, a self-written quarterly newsletter, the Bourbon Country Reader, a wealth of current information.

    Unfortunately, Dr. C, I can't recommend your book, because you haven't published one yet. Are you giving any serious thoughts to that prospect? Because I have no doubt it would start off at the top of my "recommended" list even if I'd never had the chance to converse with you, same as the articles did.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  8. #8
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    By the way, you had commented that Waymack & Harris "sucked up" to the distillers, which you seem to feel diluted the accuracy of their descriptions. I did want to point out that my comments about BCR and your writing in general could be interpreted as "sucking up", but it certainly isn't. For one thing, what would I want from you, a free subscription? No, the fact is that I have a high degree of respect for you; if I thought you were a hack writer I simply wouldn't say anything at all. I think Mark and Jim feel that way about the distillers. They certainly aren't looking for free booze (well, maybe, but that's likely not the point). And with only a handful of distillers in existence, there really aren't any "hack distillers" -- at least not in their book.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    Your point about Waymack and Harris is well taken. It was just an impression that I had at the time. I can't cite any specific examples.

    As for my own book, maybe one of these days. Part of the idea behind The Reader was to write it over time in bite size chunks that could be assembled into a book at some future date. I'm not sure exactly what my angle would be. I'm not the serious, professional historian that Mike Veach is and I'm not the serious, professional taster that Jim Murray is. Also, in a way my video, Made and Bottled in Kentucky, is my "book."

    But since you have given me this open opportunity to plug, I do have a book in print. It's not about bourbon, but another "b," blues. It is called Blues Legends. (Click on the link for more information or to order. Makes a great gift!)

    Thanks for your kind words, John. It's the feedback from people like you that keeps me going. It certainly isn't the money.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  10. #10
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    Re: Jim Murray\'s Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

    What's wrong with the Regans?


 

 

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