Book Review: Bourbon’s Backroads

Book Review: Bourbon’s Backroads

This is not the sort of book one gets for their father who just acquired a taste for bourbon. This is not the type of book for someone who believes Bulleit’s marketing narrative to be the quintessential bourbon bildungsroman. Karl Raitz’s Bourbon’s Backroads is a highly specialized, richly detailed look at industrial techniques, financial history, shipping logistics and critical stations of the Bluegrass region.

Raitz approaches his exhaustive exploration through a lens heavy on space and place — which makes perfect sense for the Professor Emeritus for the University of Kentucky’s Geography Department. He mercifully trims away at excessive historical mythos surrounding industry characters to provide simple and clear narratives of the “what”, “where,” and “why” of bourbon history and not the “who”. It is a refreshing change from most bourbon-centered books exploring this era.

It is exceptionally researched and immediately captivating for those wishing to get into the finer points of Bourbon’s rich history of technical innovation and adaptability. There is a lot to digest on every page — it is incredibly dense in detail, and further reading lists supplied at the end of the book leaves a feeling that there is still so much to learn and discover.

For those wishing to know even more, you’re in luck: Bourbon’s Backroads serves as an appetizer to a more expansive publication, Making Bourbon: A Geographical History of Distilling in Nineteenth-Century Kentucky. It is a 600+ page epic taking deeper dives into content discussed here. It may be a bit much for those seeking a light read, but for bourbon who wish to know every micro-detail it sounds incredibly promising. However, before spending the $60 on Making Bourbon, start here and see if it satisfies your — or your dad’s — curiosity.


Bourbon's Backroads




Rob Theakston is a contributing editor to Drinkhacker.

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