In what is becoming an increasingly gluttonous market of bourbon and American whiskey-related books, the ability to stand out and provide a new perspective grows ever more challenging. How many times does one need to read about mashbill recipes before wanting to hurl themselves into a fermentation tank? How many times does one need to engage in the argument about whether or not Jack Daniel’s is truly bourbon before furiously hurling charcoal briquets in the direction of the nearest “well, actually” Internet Contrarian Guy?
In Eric Zandona’s latest book, The Atlas of Bourbon & American Whiskey, he takes a modest stab at avoiding these pitfalls, but inevitably falls prey to them. This is fine: In the end, this sort of information proves incredibly useful to newcomers, and Zandona’s writing is engaging and warm enough that even seasoned bourbon scholars won’t flip ahead to get to the crux of the book.
He starts his journey, as well he should, in Kentucky, and over the course of 200 pages makes his way around the nation’s other distilling hotspots. Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York all receive dedicated chapters while other regions are aggregated in separate chapters towards the end. Tasting notes, suggested purchases from top distilleries, and recipes complement the main narrative, and there are plenty of lovely pictures and infographics to serve as engaging detours.
If there are any gripes to be had, and they are minor, it is that the atlas doesn’t serve its full potential to be comprehensive. The thriving network of Midwest micro-distilleries is certainly worth a mention, if not an entire section, and there’s barely a mention of the ever-shifting demographic to the identity of bourbon distillers and consumers, with more and more women and people of color taking major positions of responsibility and becoming larger stakeholders in the future directions of American whiskey. But this is where second editions prove to be at their best. Hopefully, the next iteration will consider their inclusion.
Small issues aside, Zandona’s atlas serves as an ideal starting point for exploration and discovery for newcomers into the rich and diverse world of American spirits. The attention to detail in design and layout is effective, the overall presentation is stylish, and the atlas will look equally as good on the coffee table or behind the bar. And at $20, it is hard to find a rival at this price point delivering information as effectively.
B+ / $20 / BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON