Book Review: Barrels & Drams

Book Review: Barrels & Drams

barrels and drams bookI’m not sure why anthologies are so popular in the wine and spirits space. Maybe it’s because people get too soused up while writing and can only finish a few pages before dozing off at the computer. Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots, edited by William M. Dowd, isn’t very remarkable any way you cut it, with a handful of really good essays alongside some really curious oddities and a lot of chaff in its 220 or so pages.

The book finds its strengths in the subject promised by the title. History is the forte here, and the first half-plus of the book comprises a straightforward, if decidedly limited, look at the past. Of the best stuff: Daniel Okrent’s look at the (surprisingly dismal) “Mathematics of Prohibition,” plus a trilogy of pieces about whiskeymaking in far-flung places like India and South Africa.

After this point, things get pretty strange. A rant from Jim Murray against – and I’m not joking – plastic cups used at spirits tastings seems woefully out of place (and a bit too Crazy Old Man for my liking, though he isn’t entirely off base), and Moritz Kallmeyer’s essay on vatting your own whiskey at home, while curiously instructive, just doesn’t feel important enough to hang onto in hardcover book form.

There’s plenty of talent on these pages, but I’m not sure many of these writers – including Tom Wolfe and David Wondrich – have given Dowd their best work for this collection.


Barrels & Drams




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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