Just like you come here to learn about booze, Shanna and I are constantly learning ourselves. I like to think that this is one of IPTB’s charms. We don’t rarely lecture about the rights and wrongs of cocktail culture. Instead, we’re exploring along with our readers, passing on knowledge and insight as we accumulate it. Shanna and I are still students of boozology ourselves and we learn a tremendous amount from reading. (For our previous book review, check out The Cocktail Compendium.)
One of the best-written and most informative books on spirits I have yet found is Kate Hopkins’ 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink. Hopkins is the food and drink blogger responsible for The Accidental Hedonist. Lately, the designation “food blog” has become almost derogatory in a sea of amateurs posting photos of spaghetti, but Hopkins adds a refreshing dose of good ol’ common sense to a field and an industry that is too often caught up in itself. The Accidental Hedonist also boasts an extremely comprehensive “Guide to Beer.” For The AH’s guide to whiskey, however, you’ll have to log off for a while and pick up a real ink-on-paper book.
99 Drams of Whiskey is structured to interweave two stories. One chronicles Hopkins’ international tour of distilleries as she tries to probe the spirit’s broad and at times cult-like appeal. In parallel to this, we learn about the history of the drink itself. Alcohol has been a part of everyday life since the earliest days of civilization, but few drinks have influenced and been influenced by human history as profoundly as whiskey. Especially in Ireland and Scotland, the history of whiskey is inextricable from the history of politics and colonialism.
Though some may yawn at the prospect of reading history, Hopkins’ writing is engaging, informative, and at times whimsical. Much like we strive to do here at IPTB, her tone is never condescending. Hopkins approaches the subject as a newcomer, without the pomp of a connoisseur. As she puts it,
What do you do with the folks who are simply crazy-obsessive about their drink? More than any other factor, it is these folks who make the whiskey world so intimidating to newcomers. If you ask a whiskey professional what’s the best way to enjoy the spirit, they’re most likely to respond: “Any way you like.” Ask a whiskey obsessive the same question, and you’re likely to get an answer regarding how much water is proper to add to a specific type of whiskey, and then a lot of detail about how much water to remove for each year that the whiskey has aged. For a newcomer to the spirit, this can be overwhelming.
Undoubtedly, the overall message of 99 Drams of Whiskey is this: whiskey is a drink to be enjoyed. If that means analyzing flavors and dissecting the process, then more power to you. But if you just want a nice tipple to enjoy in good company, then that’s how you should drink it. Whatever your goals are, 99 Drams of Whiskey is a fun read and an informative addition to any boozehound’s library.