Book Review: American Spirit: Wild Turkey Bourbon from Ripy to Russell
There are lots of whiskey books out there. I think I saw an entire shelf full on my last visit to a bookstore. Despite that abundance, it’s hard to find a brand-specific book that drills down into the history of a particular distillery. David Jennings’s new tome, American Spirit: Wild Turkey Bourbon from Ripy to Russell, is a welcome exception to the litany of whiskey guides out there that inundate a reader with exhaustive reviews and short bios of every producer from A to Z. Don’t get me wrong. Some of these encyclopedias are well done and thoughtful. But I can’t think of ever wanting to read them cover to cover in a short timeframe. I read David’s book in a day, and that’s not just because it’s relatively short and easy to digest. It’s actually a really enjoyable read.
The story behind its creation is as interesting as the content inside. Jennings isn’t a spirits writer (outside of his RareBird101 blog), and he has never written a book before. I actually don’t know if he has a day job. But he definitely has a passion for Wild Turkey, and through the magic that is the internet (specifically Kickstarter), he was able to convince over two hundred backers to support him in his efforts to put the Wild Turkey story to paper. Full disclosure: I was one of those backers. I’ll be honest though, I did it more out of curiosity than anything else, and I had no idea the final product would be as polished or impressive as it is.
The book has a little bit of everything to scratch your Wild Turkey bourbon itch (short of actually drinking it, of course). From a well-researched history into the origins of distilling on Wild Turkey Hill to the impact of Prohibition and the many complicated corporate transactions that brought us to today’s Wild Turkey Distillery, this book provides an easily digestable and definitive history of Wild Turkey. The rest of the book is dedicated to reviews with thoughtful, and mercifully brief, tasting notes divided into various categories, including a selection of vintage expressions which should be particularly appealing to those questing for the much exalted “vintage Turkey.”
The reviews section was actually where I was most skeptical of this book, as I assumed a Wild Turkey superfan like Jennings would have difficulty being impartial or critical. It is, after all, a book about Wild Turkey now sold at the distillery gift shop, so I assume it received parent company Campari’s blessing. Despite this, he weighs the merits of each expression and gives a reader honest and extremely thoughtful opinions (spoiler: he’s not a fan of pretty much any Wild Turkey expression exported to Australia).
The appendices includes an extremely useful timeline for your next Wild Turkey history exam and an essay from his blog where he plays Wild Turkey matchmaker, recommending the appropriate Wild Turkey expression for every bourbon drinker from newbie to connoisseur based on their current potential bourbon preference. It’s entries like this section, among many others, that make this book unique among many whiskey books out there. It’s both a tribute to Wild Turkey and the incredible legacy of Jimmy Russell, but it’s also a how-to guide for falling in love with a particular brand.
Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Jennings has probably started something with this book. I would bet a vintage Cheesy Gold Foil that we’ll see more brand-specific whiskey books popping up in the future, as a result. Let’s just hope they are as good as this one.
A / $20 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
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- Review: Russell’s Reserve 1998 Kentucky Straight Bourbon