Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Whiskey Book

Review: Shots of Knowledge The Science of Whiskey

Rob Arnold and Eric Simanek, Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey, (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2016), 160 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780875656540

Rob Arnold and Eric Simanek are the authors of Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey. Arnold was born in Louisville and is the third generation of his family to be in the whiskey business. He is the head distiller at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company and a Ph.D. candidate in plant breeding at Texas A&M University. Simanek is the Robert E. Welch Professor of Chemistry, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Christian University and the director of the TCU IdeaFactory. Arnold and Simanek divided 58 essays on the science of whiskey into three parts: “From Sunshine to Sugar” describes how water, light and CO2 combine to form the essential structures of various cereal grains. Part 2, “From Wee Beasties to White Dogs,” covers the science of yeast, mashing, fermentation and distillation. And lastly, “From Barrel to Brain” follows the whiskey through maturation to ingestion.

Shots of Knowledge is an excellent coffee-table book for your home or a distillery tasting room. Each of the 58 essays is one page with an accompanying photograph or illustration. In the margins, Arnold and Simanek also include short snippets of information that build on the central theme of each essay. Both authors have significant scientific training to write authoritatively about the chemical and biological processes that convert grain, yeast and water into whiskey. While the essays are very specific about the science involved, they are short enough to not overwhelm. Shots of Knowledge makes a great coffee-table book since each essay stands alone and the illustrations are engaging. Arnold and Simanek have produced a book that will interest both consumers and distillers who want to better understand the science of whiskey.

First appeared in Distiller. (Summer 2017): 167

Review: Dead Distillers

Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits, (New York: Abrams Image, 2016), 224 pages, $24.95. ISBN: 9781419720215

Colin Spoelman and David Haskell are cofounders of Kings County Distillery and co-authors of now two books. Spoelman, the head distiller of Kings County Distillery, grew up in the dry Harlan County of eastern Kentucky and only began experimenting with distilling after moving to New York. When Spoelman met Haskell, an editor of New York magazine and the great-grandson of a former New York bootlegger, the idea for Kings County Distillery was born. Since 2010, Kings County Distillery has won a number of medals for its spirits, and most recently it was named 2016 Distillery of the Year by ADI.

An employee of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery inspired Spoelman and Haskell to write their newest book after organizing a tour of the graves of distillers interred there. As they looked at cemeteries around the country, they realized that the buried distillers all had intriguing stories to tell that were uniquely American. The book retells shortened biographies of 76 distillers who ranged the gamut from slaves and outlaws to successful businessmen and U.S. presidents. The stories are arranged by the distillers’ death dates, and are interspersed with newspaper clippings of distillery accidents that have lamentably taken the lives of workers, neighbors and rescue personnel for the past 400 years.

Dead Distillers is an excellent book that pays tribute to and humanizes those whose stories are included. For the average consumer, spirits named after dead distillers are seen as marketing depicting them as whiskey gods in an American pantheon. However, Dead Distillers succeeds at honoring real people who led fascinating and complicated lives with their biographies and two fantastic infographics. While most infographics try to simplify data to the point that it is immediately digestible in a single glance, the two included in the book are more akin to topographical maps that only reveal the depth of their content through close inspection. And finally, while Spoelman and Haskell wrote the book for anyone interested in distilling, it offers living distillers a memorial as real as any graveyard headstone that they can visit and remember both the successes and failures of those who came before them.

Originally published in Distiller Magazine (Fall 2016):  145

Review: The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining

Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How to Make and Drink Whiskey, (New York: Abrams, 2013), 224 pages, $24.95.

Colin Spoelman is the Master Distiller of Kings County Distillery and co-author of The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How to Make and Drink Whiskey. Spoelman grew up in the dry Harlan County of eastern Kentucky. While the region had a long history of moonshining, Spoelman didn't try it for himself until he moved to New York.  While Spoelman worked in film, architecture and perfume, Kings County Distillery grew from an idea, to a hobby to a full time business that has earned a good deal of commercial and critical success.

Like other recent books on food and drinks, the cover art is printed directly on the binding which avoids the customary dust jacket.  But unlike other recent books, the art and text are  printed onto a cloth binding which gives it a wonderful texture.  The interior of the book is equally striking with bold red highlights, diagrams and chapter breaks. Spoelman and Haskell pack quite a bit of information in the book's slim 224 page frame.  It is organized very well and covers just about everything you would want from a book of this sort.  It includes the basics of what makes whiskey unique, its history, a survey of the large Kentucky distilleries and some notable Craft distillers, how to make on a small scale, as well as whiskey recipes. Despite this breadth, The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining is like a welterweight prizefighter – zero fat and packs a punch. 

My two favorite sections of the book are “A History of Whiskey,” and “How to Make Whiskey.” As a student of history I appreciated the fact that the book's history chapter didn't repeat the the same old tired stories about Kentucky.  Spoelman and Haskell included great stories about the history of distilling in New York and the mid-Atlantic states that have an equal claim on the history of whiskey in the US.  Spoelman's chapter on how to make whiskey is clear and easy to follow. For anyone who has home-brewed a batch of all grain beer will recognize many of the steps involved in mashing and fermenting the distiller's beer. The description of the distilling phase has through instructions that demystify the process. The one question that repeatedly came to mind while reading the book was, how can Spoelman tell his story and not get into legal trouble. Spoelman and Haskell are clear about the illegality of home distilling but its unclear why they or other moonshiners-turned-distillers can publicize their stories without legal consequence.  There are a number of possibilities that float around in my head but since I am not a legal scholar it is probably prudent not to speculate. 

The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining, would make a great addition for a wide variety of readers. Fans of Kings County Distillery, the homebrewer interested in adding a new hobby, or the whiskey enthusiasts who wants to better understand the process of distillation will likely find the book useful and educational. Spoelman and Haskell have produced a great book and I would be glad to see them collaborate on another.


Review: American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye

Clay Risen, American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit, (New York: Sterling Epicure, 2013), 304 pages, $24.95.

Clay Risen is the editor for the Op-Ed section of the New York Times, and he has written for a number of publications including The Atlantic and Smithsonian magazines, and authored A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination.  He is also the author of the blog Mash Notes where he writes about his passion for whiskey.  Out of his love for whiskey and a desire to inform those interested in learning more about the growing panoply of whiskey options in the US, he wrote American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit.

All together the book is very well executed.  As a physical object, American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye is beautifully constructed with counter-relief gold type and color photographs of about 200 whiskey bottles on high-gloss paper.  While Risen suggests the reader stick the book in their back pocket as they head out to the bar, the book seems a bit big for that. Though, maybe the paperback version will be more compact.  The text of the book is organized into two major components: an introduction, and tasting notes.  The introduction covers the history and methods of whiskey production in the United States from its first appearance in the colonies to the current whiskey renaissance.  While it is very well researched and written it also seemed an odd choice to have a 70+ page introduction rather than split the already segmented material into separate chapters.  Before the section on tasting notes, Risen included a short tutorial on how to read a whiskey label.  This is an important addition considering that he wrote the book for the un/under-trained  whiskey drinker.  However, this section could have been stronger if Risen had also explained how to read the back label and used more than one example.

The majority of the book is comprised of tasting notes for 206 American whiskeys, bourbons and ryes.  The reviews are organized by brand name and each includes a short description of brand including if they are from a distillery or merchant bottler.   The reviews are brief and boxed into separate sections that allow the reader to get a good deal of information at a glance. Each whiskey is rated from NR (not recommended) to Four Stars (excellent) and given an approximate price range with one to four dollar signs.  Some of the reviews were a bit puzzling considering that a whiskey described as tasting of asphalt and burnt tire got over three stars.  Risen acknowledges that each person's palate is different and creates a subjective frame of reference when drinking.  So to combat this he often tasted the whiskeys with other people to approach a more objective analysis. 

With any new book of reviews it's a good idea to sit down with the book, crack it open and drink sample of what you have at home and compare your experience with the notes.  In this way the reader can get an idea if the author's palate and vocabulary for describing spirits is similar to the reader's.  If it is, then the reader can be reasonably sure that the tasting notes and ratings will match their own.  I, for one, am looking forward to tackling this fun and arduous task with American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye at my side.