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Authors: Jason Wilson

Boozehound

BOOK: Boozehound
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Neither the author nor publisher of this book is affiliated with or endorsed by Kyle McHugh of The Boozehound or the website
www.theboozehound.com
.

Copyright © 2010 by Jason Wilson

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
www.tenspeed.com

Ten Speed Press and the Ten Speed Press colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Portions of this book have been adapted from previously published material in the
Washington Post, The Smart Set
from Drexel University,
Imbibe Magazine
, and
Condé Nast Traveler
.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Wilson, Jason, 1970–
Boozehound : on the trail of the rare, the obscure, and the overrated in spirits / Jason Wilson.—1st ed.
    p. cm.
Summary: “A journalistic excursion into lesser-known, forgotten, and misunderstood spirits from around the world, with recipes”—Provided by publisher.
1. Liquors. 2. Cookery (Liquors) I. Title.
TP590.W55 2010
641.2′5—dc22

2010013363

eISBN: 978-1-58008-611-0

v3.1

FOR JEN

CONTENTS

Cover
Title Page
Copyright
Dedication
Introduction
The Booze Beat
CHAPTER
1 • THE OMBIBULOUS ME
CHAPTER
2 • FLAVOR AND ITS DISCONTENTS
CHAPTER
3 • LIQUOR STORE ARCHAEOLOGY
CHAPTER
4 • ROMANCE: THEY POUR IT ON
CHAPTER
5 • BITTER IS BELLA
CHAPTER
6 • WATER OF LIFE
CHAPTER
7 • TERROIR-ISTS
CHAPTER
8 • OF POLITICS AND RUM
CHAPTER
9 • THE ANGELS’ SHARE
Acknowledgments
Appendix

INTRODUCTION
The Booze Beat

AS LONG AS YOU REPRESENT ME AS PRAISING ALCOHOL I SHALL NOT COMPLAIN
.

H. L. Mencken

A
FEW YEARS AGO
, I was at a fancy party with several people who have successful careers in what’s commonly called lifestyle journalism. We were drinking special cocktails made with a very special gin that had been infused with cucumbers and rose petals, and mixed with rose water that had been specially imported from Lebanon.

I was chatting with a beautiful, sexy friend who wrote for a magazine that covers luxury spa vacations. She got that job, in part, because she wrote a travel book about bathing culture that one critic claimed “bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of
Allure
magazine.”

As we chatted, I shared some good news with her: I had just been hired to write a column for a major newspaper about spirits and cocktails.

“You should really meet my friend,” she told me. “He’s the perfume critic at the
Times
.”

“Really?” I said. “Let me just see if I’m hearing this correctly. The luxury spa columnist would like the spirits columnist to meet the perfume columnist.”

“Yes,” she said, with a beautiful, sexy smile.

“Wait,” I said. “Did you just hear that?”

“What?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “I just thought for a second that I heard the sound of the Apocalypse happening.”

I often said things like this in the beginning of my new job. I’d grown up, after all, in a family of men who made their money packing fruit and vegetables—real work. I knew what it was like to wake up for work at 4 a.m., to haggle over crates of cantaloupe at the produce terminal before sunrise. By thirteen, I knew what it felt like to unload a truckload of onions in the July sun; how your arms were ripped up by the fifty-pound red mesh bags. My father mangled his thumb in a machine that stitches together bags of potatoes. I could imagine my grandfather saying, “Spirits and cocktail columnist? Really? I’m spinning in my goddamn grave.” At least that’s how my misguided thinking went in those early days.

When I was in school, I’d dreamed of becoming Ernest Hemingway. Now, I travel and drink and write about my traveling and drinking. Close enough, I guess—though likely closer to the paunchy, boozy, crazy late Hemingway than the younger, dashing one who ran with bulls, drove ambulances in the Great War, and wrote classic novels. It’s sort of like dreaming of becoming Elvis when you’re young, and then actually becoming Elvis years later—but maybe you’ve become the wrong one, the Elvis who performed, sweaty and overweight, in rhinestone jumpsuits. Regardless, it’s difficult (not to mention unseemly) to complain when work entails polishing off tasting flights of special reserve bourbons or single malts or añejo tequilas at 11 o’clock in the morning. I’ve come to love spirits, and to admire the people who make them and the places they come from. I hope to convey some of that love to you.

When I’m working, I often think of that poor woman, Jig, in Hemingway’s classic story “Hills Like White Elephants.” Sitting at a bar in a Spanish railway station on a hot afternoon, trying to avoid another pointed quarrel with her boyfriend, she orders a glass of anís at the railway station bar. “I wanted to try this new drink,” she says to her companion, in one of the most cynical lines in American literature. “That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?” Looking at things and trying new drinks. That’s a pretty fair description of my job. Any given day I might be tasting a
rhum agricole
made with pure Martinique sugarcane, or sipping an eau-de-vie distilled from some rare alpine berry, or quaffing an herbal
digestivo
concocted from an obscure Milanese recipe, or contemplating the renaissance of American rye whiskey, or comparing sherry-casked Norwegian aquavit to unoaked Danish aquavit. Some friends suggest I should have lived in another century, wandering about town with a cape, a monocle, and a stick. Which may be true, but not for the reasons they would likely suggest.

Along the journey, I’ve learned that booze—like it or not—plays a central role in the history of humanity. There’s a reason the word
spirits
came to be used for alcoholic beverages: the ancient idea that liquor was magical and transcendent, and that when one uncorked and imbibed such liquids, a supernatural force would be unleashed. Spirits are cultural touchstones. They mark geography. They mark time. I am struck by how often I open a bottle and am transported to the particular moment when I first tasted this or that flavor or style. I’m also inevitably reminded of the people with whom I’d shared that time, place, and bottle. Thus the booze becomes a part of life, its tastes and aromas becoming intertwined with memory. Drinking, I believe, can be an aesthetic experience similar to enjoying books or art or music. Learning how to taste spirits, then, becomes no different from study in any of the other humanities: learning how to read works of Russian literature or how to look at German Expressionist paintings or how to listen to
Rigoletto
. At least, that’s one way of looking at it.

Here’s another way to look at it: Critics and scholars poke around inquiring into every aspect of popular culture, from creepy Japanese comic books to successful professional poker strategies to the filmography of the 1980s rap trio the Fat Boys. Entire forests have been pulped so that we can read social histories on the toothpick, the color mauve, and the candy bar. So why not endeavor to study spirits? Let’s be honest: As cultural activities go, there are few more popular than drinking. No matter what the moralists, the scolds, or the self-appointed health advocates tell you, drinking can be one of the most fun things in the world to do. Billions of human beings share this opinion. I am covering a fifty-four billion dollar industry that has seen nothing but astronomical growth in the past decade—a 66 percent rise in U.S. sales since 2000.

BOOK: Boozehound
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