Whiskey Book Review: 99 Drams of Whiskey

99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the DrinkI just finished reading 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink by Kate Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins is a food writer whose blog Accidental Hedonist covers all things tasty - from beer and whiskey to cheese and candy. 99 Drams is Ms. Hopkins' first book-length effort, and it uses the informal writing style found in her blog to make learning about the history and culture of whiskey entertaining, for whiskey connoisseurs and novices alike.


In the book Ms. Hopkins goes on an international quest to understand our obsession with whiskey. Her interest is sparked by the story of a gentleman whom she refers to throughout the book as Mr. Disposable Income, so named because he purchased (and drank) a bottle of Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky from a hotel bar in Surrey, England for £32,000 ($70,000). Over the course of several weeks of travel the author delves deeply into the world of whiskey in hopes of comprehending how a bottle of brown liquid could be so highly prized.

The book is one part history lesson, one part travelogue, and one part whiskey tasting compilation. These various strains of writing are arranged chronologically based on the order in which the author, and her traveling companion Krysta, visited various whiskey-related regions of the world. Krysta provides comic-relief throughout the book, and brings a whiskey novice's perspective to their travels. The journey begins in Ireland where we learn about the earliest history of whiskey in the British Isles, and the unresolved dispute over whether whiskey first originated in Ireland or Scotland. From Ireland, Kate & Krysta travel to Scotland where they meet numerous distillers who add their personal stories to the long, complex history of Scotch. As a writer, Ms. Hopkins is offered tastes of several whiskeys that you're not going to find in your local liquor store or bar, so her tasting notes are either a real treat or a form of "I've got something you don't have" torture depending on how you look at it.

When the writer arrives in the New World she delves into the culture of American whiskey before, during, and after prohibition. Within this framework she contrasts the earliest, farmer-distilled American whiskeys with the modern, mass-produced whiskeys of Canada and Kentucky. She also touches on recent trends in micro-distilling that are bringing the history of American whiskey full circle. Hopkins does a great job of exploring both the high- and low-brow ends of American whiskey culture as exemplified by tastings of both bottom-shelf Imperial Blended Whiskey, and a high-end, special bottling of Buffalo Trace bourbon finished in Cabernet barrels. When the author writes about shelling out $50 for a store's last bottle of this hard-to-find bourbon you begin to think that maybe she has come to understand, on some scale, the high value people place on good Whiskey.

While pure whiskey aficionados may find the random musings scattered throughout this book a bit irrelevant, these snippets make it an entertaining read, and they usually end up tying back into whiskey history, or the author's unique personal journey into the world of whiskey. If you don't have the time or money to take a weeks-long, whirlwind tour of the world's whiskey regions this book is the next best thing, and I guarantee you'll know more about whiskey after reading it than you did before.

1 comments:

Jade Graham said...

The journey begins in Ireland where we learn about the earliest history of whiskey in the British Isles, investments