In his forward for the second edition of Richard Thomas’s American Whiskey, Robin Robinson offers up the monumental understatement that the American whiskey industry is “a dynamic industry where change is constant.” That truth is born out just in a quick comparison between the first edition of Mr. Thomas’s book, published in 2019, and the edition reviewed here that hit shelves this fall. With dozens of large-scale distilleries constantly adding new products and some 2,000 craft distilleries striving to do the same, it’s no small undertaking to compile a country-wide glossary of American whiskey with enough detail to be comprehensive and entertaining but not so much that it reads like a dictionary. That is arguably this book’s greatest success, even while plenty of American whiskeys understandably go unmentioned.
For those new to American whiskey, Mr. Thomas has made researching all the easier by breaking the country into five geographic regions, each showcasing their own large distilleries and a representative sampling of smaller “craft” operations (110 distilleries in total). Instead of delving into individual distilleries, Mr. Thomas opts to profile various luminaries in the industry alongside their respective whiskeys, providing a more personalized and intimate background. Even there, however, his latest edition can’t quite keep up with the constant churn of talent inside such a busy industry (Jackie Zykan’s departure from Old Forester, for example).
Mr. Thomas’s book offers sufficient historical background and technical detail in easy to digest sections clearly designed for readability and brevity. More nuanced investigations into subjects like Pennsylvania’s rye revival and the distilling boom in New York state are incorporated into their specific regional sections, adding useful context to the various whiskeys that are subsequently explored. And quite a few are; over 300, in fact, each with succinct but thoughtful tasting notes. While Kentucky-based brands alone consume 150 of the book’s 550 or so pages, significant space is given to whiskeys from the likes of New York, Colorado, and Texas, among others. For a novice looking to understand the cornucopia of American whiskey produced from sea to shining sea, Mr. Thomas’s book is a great place to start, but even the American whiskey “connoisseur” can benefit from a guide this well-organized and thorough.
A- / $35 [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]