Latest Book By Fred Minnick Chronicles the Arc of Bourbon History
All images courtesy of Fred Minnick. You can learn a lot about the world and about human nature from studying the history of whiskey in the United States. No matter the zeitgeist of the time, it always seems to be reflected in people’s attitudes toward alcoholic beverages. Whether the hordes are looking for something to demonize or for their own salvation, you can bet the whiskey industry is where they will eventually affix their gaze.
We all know about the struggles of the bourbon industry, the facts and historical points that led us to this current bourbon boom. Settlers distilled their leftover corn and other grains, eventually started storing that distillate in charred oak barrels for whatever reason, and then there was bourbon. Over the following decades bourbon would become the impetus for consumer protection laws, then it would almost disappear as Prohibitionists searched for a scapegoat on which to blame all of mankind’s woes. Then it was discovered whiskey taxes could solve all our economic problems and Prohibition was repealed, but bourbon makers faced numerous challenges leading up to today’s current bourbon boom. If you can’t recite those facts offhand, you’re not a true whiskey nerd.
But have you ever stopped to wonder why and how those facts came to be? How did the population's views on bourbon lead to legislative action? This is where Fred Minnick’s latest tome, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, comes in. Minnick, as usual, does an excellent job of explaining the culture and the attitudes that led to things like Prohibition. It was a very popular platform at the time, and it was being co-opted by anyone and everyone in order to advance their own, often nefarious, agendas. According to the book, the Ku Klux Klan was a major proponent of Prohibition, believing they could somehow leverage it to achieve segregation. This fact alone is fascinating when you apply it to the modern-day “War on Drugs.”
At the same time, the bourbon industry was one of the few places where women and people of color could find good jobs. The bourbon industry blazed the trail in marketing its wares to African-American consumers when few others would, according to Minnick. The story of Kentucky’s bourbon industry is one of generations building a successful industry by simply doing the best they could with what they had, and that narrative plays out over and over again in the pages of Minnick’s book.
The bourbon industry has been thrown numerous curveballs over the decades, and each obstacle has served to strengthen the category as a whole. Today the scars of Prohibition, the war effort, and the dark days of bourbon can still be seen throughout the bourbon world, and this book does a great job of explaining not just that they are there, but also why they are there. It’s the Paul Harvey “Rest of the Story” bourbon book for those enthusiasts who want to know the deeper stories behind the historical facts.
Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey by Fred Minnick is on store shelves now.