April 7, 2012

Bourbon Book Review: "Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking" by Henry G. Crowgey

Henry G. Crowgey was a history professor at UNC-Wilmington, and his pedagogical nature certainly shines through in “Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking.” This work “is almost exclusively devoted to the first half-century of Kentucky distilling, with a certain amount of additional emphasis on those first few years of settlement which have been completely ignored by the early historians in their guarded mention of whiskey and distillers.” As a result, “Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking” takes a microscopic view of a very specific period of initial American whiskey making. What’s important, though, is that this initial period informed whiskey production as we know it today.

Crowgey’s work is rich with historical information, and in that regard, the book absolutely smells of the lamp. Crowgey does an admirable job at getting a true story of whiskey and bourbon distilling in the 1700 and 1800’s. Since there is an unfortunate dearth of historical record on the subject, Crowgey takes advantage of the few materials still in existence that may shed an objective light on early American whiskey, and cites from past newspapers, diaries, ads, letters, notes, and wills.

“Kentucky Bourbon” is a scholarly effort, aimed at historical precision. It is a dense read that appeals to bourbon and whiskey enthusiasts as well as American historians. The book places whiskey as a centerpiece of colonial living, naming bourbon and other alcohol as an undeniably essential part of colonial life – whiskey was always a popular guest at weddings, funerals, political events, and in military life. The elegance of Henry G. Crowgey’s research is how it describes both the ubiquity and significance of bourbon in early Kentucky and American life. To acknowledge and appreciate the history of American whiskey is to understand and enjoy it in a modern context. “Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking” provides a huge step in doing so.