Beer = Whiskey = Bourbon?

Contrary to it’s title, BOURBON Curious, A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker is far from simple. It’s clear the author, FRED MINNICK, professional taster, judge, and self-proclaimed “bourbon geek” knows Bourbon.


Book Review: Bourbon Curious, A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker

Author: Fred Minnick

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. …

In short, whiskey is just distilled beer that has been aged in barrels.

(Kindle Location 50)

History, Ingredients, Who, What, When, Where, Why of making, selling, tasting, judging — and Fred Minnick shares his gathered wisdom with details and humor. This book will appeal to history buffs and connoisseurs as it contains a plethora of interesting and vetted facts. It’s truly everything you wanted to know about Bourbon but didn’t know who or what to ask.

Scotch and bourbon are whiskeys, but the similarities stop there. Scotch must be made in Scotland, and its celebrated grain is barley; bourbon must be made in the United States, and its primary grain is corn. Scotch whiskey’s regulated categories are single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended scotch whiskey, and blended grain whiskey; bourbon’s regulated categories are straight, blended, blended straight, and bottled-in-bond. (Kindle Locations 56).

The proof, age, and whiskey type are about the only things you can trust on an American whiskey label. Bourbon labels rival political ads for the most bullshit per square inch. (Kindle Location 186)

This half reference book, half tasting guide educates us about prohibition and the United States Government’s role in regulations. While reading the history, you can draw interesting parallels to the current day attempts to legislate, regulate and market cannabis in the U.S. which also began with federal prohibition in the early 20th century.

Despite legitimate medical support, a handful of whiskey makers overstepped their bounds, making unsubstantiated claims. Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey claimed to cure just about every imaginable disease, including consumption and cancer. Temperance leaders exploited these false claims in their quest to stop the flow of alcohol. (Kindle Location 529)

As politicians debated Prohibition in the 1910s, temperance-minded lawmakers could choose from any number of whiskey-related reasons why alcohol should be banned. Going into Prohibition, American whiskey had already had its share of nasty history; it was made by slaves and sold by unsavory traders and prostitutes, it had caused presidential scandals, and it had likely led to thousands of deaths through false advertising and rectifying. Maybe legends are not such a bad idea for selling bourbon, after all. (Kindle Locations 540)

Yes, history is interesting and in this book you will have a respected authority in your library to turn to, but learning how to taste and appreciate bourbon is, for me, the real treasure here.

Part Three, “How to Taste Bourbon” gives us tools and recommendations for how to taste, and a list of bourbons to try. Use this comprehensive guide for yourself, with a friend, or start a Meetup (https://secure.meetup.com/create/) — share the cost of a bottle then taste, score and share your experience for a year. No kidding, there are at least 50 different bourbons noted in these pages. And with your new found bourbon knowledge and discriminating taste you will be poised to taste and rate new bourbons offered by the smaller, independent and burgeoning American craft distillery industry.

Bourbon’s alcohol burn happens when the spirit penetrates down the middle of the tongue like a nine-volt battery and stings all the way down. With spice, the tongue feels a slight tickle in much the same way a hot pepper would. Once you’re accustomed to the spirit’s texture on the tongue and understand the difference between burn and spice, you can analyze the subtleties in bourbon. (Kindle Locations 1392)

Final thought… a few recipes are included for those of us who might prefer consuming our bourbon in a mixed drink, a punch or jello-shot but after finishing this book, I’ll try my next bourbon served “neat.”

Post Script: Bought a bottle of Jim Beam Black Double Aged (8 years) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The nose… definitely smell caramel, vanilla, toffee-nut and wood smoke like the morning after a holiday wintertime wood fire has burned itself out. The mouthfeel… very spicy yet smooth and burns all the way down — as Mr. Minnick would say, “crispy mouthfeel notes of citrus with a long spicy finish.” Yes! It really adds so much more to the drinking experience when you have an understanding of the spirit, it’s history, how it’s made, and you take the time to truly savor and enjoy it’s many dimensions. Cheers!

And what did he say about “legs”? I’m looking now at my glass and wondering… Oh yes, the important guidance was the opening of your mouth… not really about “legs” at all…

After scoring its color, I’ll swirl the bourbon and analyze the legs. In wine, the legs are sometimes referred to as wine tears as they trickle down the glass and are shaped like tears. Legs or tears are the hallmark of the Gibbs– Marangoni effect, in which evaporation causes fluid surface tension. In wine, legs point toward high sugar content, but in bourbon, they show character and complexity, offering a slight look into what oils survived distillation and filtration. Longtime Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell observes that the longer a bourbon’s legs, the more robust its flavors. I’ve also found the closer together the legs are, the more depth and character there is from aroma to the finish. With that said, I’ve enjoyed bourbons with hardly any legs at all, so analyzing the legs is more of an observation than a scoring method. Once I’ve studied the bourbon legs, I stick my nose in the glass, open my mouth, and smell. By opening your mouth, you release the tension on your olfactory glands. (Kindle Locations 1378)

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