American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit – Clay Risen

It’s been a while since I did a book review. I’ve been reading a lot less compared to last year. That is partially so since I generally am too tired to stay awake and read, so I watch TV instead. Also, the books I’ve been reading (mostly The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan) consists of books averaging some 800 pages, compared to last year’s much thinner novels.

During our recent holiday in Brittany (in which I regrettably didn’t visit the soon to be closed Glann ar Mor distillery) I got around to reading some more again. This book by Clay Risen I borrowed from whisky buddy MZ, who’s been diving into American whiskey recently.

On the cover of the book it says the book contains Profiles, Ratings and Tasting notes. That actually is just the second part of the book. The first 80 pages or so contain an ‘introduction’. This means there are bits on the history of American whiskey, from the first whiskeys, through the Whiskey Rebellion, up to Prohibition and the recovery after that, all up until the current craft distillery boom.

The first chapters are interesting but don’t offer much new information that’s not available anywhere else. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’ve not read much on the subject yet.

The chapter is very well written and is very easy to read, which is not always the case in whiskey history books. I enjoyed reading everything I already read in other books once again. Maybe also because I want to gather the facts and know them by heart, and I am not good at learning facts quickly. I have to re-read stuff a couple of times.

But, where not many facts were new to me, there was a remark on the whiskey shortage during World War II. Since America was still recovering from prohibition and the great depression, the distillery closures of WWII were not doing the industry any favors. Mr. Risen pens down a remark from a witness that many people were buying up whiskey because of the shortage, as an investment.

I never read that before anywhere, but it’s an interesting statement. Mostly because it indicates that hoarding whiskey is not something new, as some folks try to make us believe.

Anyway, the second part of the books consists of tasting notes and short introductions of whiskey distilleries and NDPs (Non-Distiller Producers). I have to admit that I more or less browsed this part instead of thoroughly reading it.

The distillery profiles are interesting, but not something I need to know from all kinds of brands that are either common knowledge to me, or so obscure this side of the pond that it’s not interesting since we can’t get the hooch anyway.

Tasting notes are, obviously, just that. Someone’s opinion of a dram that might or might not suit your own profile. In this case I found that Risen’s palate is different from mine as there were quite a few discrepancies between my rating and his.

What I did like about the notes, however, is that Clay Risen does not really care about public opinion. Contrary to many whisk(e)y writers, he dares to go against the grain and state some whiskey fanatic’s fandom of distilleries and give all their drams a ‘Not Recommended’ rating. In this case, this is about Balcones. He very much writes honest opinion and this does not reflect the general consensus. Kudos to Mr. Risen.

So, my thoughts on the book:

If you’re new to American whiskey and want to know the relatively summarized history of it, plus if you’re into tasting notes as a guide into the style, this is highly recommended.

If you’re going through drams for a couple of years and have read previous books on American whiskey this one might be nice, but there isn’t much new information available.

Still, I’d not regret buying this if I actually did so.

The book is available for some 15 bucks from Amazon.


About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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