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Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit  by Dane Huckelbridge

Published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in April 2014

A rollicking biography of bourbon whiskey that doubles as a rich and surprising history of American itself.

Few products are infused so completely or intimately in the American story as bourbon whiskey. As Dane Hucklebridge’s masterfully crafted history reveals, the iconic amber spirit is the American experience, distilled, aged, and sealed in a bottle.

Bourbon’s essential ingredient—corn—is indigenous to the Americas and had been fermented by its native peoples for centuries. At Jamestown, the earliest colonists almost immediately applied their old-world distilling knowhow to produce the first corn-based whiskey. After the winning the American Revolution, George Washington turned his attention to establishing one of the new nation’s largest distilling operations at his estate at Mt. Vernon, making him a Founding Father of both the USA and American whiskey. With an influx of whiskey-swilling Scots-Irish immigrants at the turn of the 19th-century, bourbon’s recipe was perfected in the rugged oak forests of the Appalachian frontier. Before turning to politics, Kentucky-born Abe Lincoln received a liquor license in 1833; during the Civil War, soldiers on both sides liberally imbibed before, during, and after battle. Then in cowboy saloons and gambling halls of the late-19th century, bourbon put the “wild” in Wild West.

During the early 20th century, Prohibition famously sought to curtail America’s drinking, but it only expanded alcohol’s reach, as speakeasies supplied by gangsters and bootleggers welcomed women and made drinking more fashionable than ever. Bourbon-consumption reached record heights—both at home and abroad—as America came of age as a superpower after WWII and labels like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam became global brands on par with Coca-Cola. Just as bourbon fueled the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway during the first-half of the 20th century, the 1960s and beyond saw rock-and-roll bands and country stars knocking back bottles of Old Grand-Dad and reclaiming bourbon’s unruly reputation. Today the story has come full circle, as we’ve seen a renewed appreciation of craft-distilled whiskey that’s produced in small batches, much as it was 150 years ago.

At turns rebellious and traditional, liberating and destructive, regional and globalized: to know bourbon is to understand the American story. Crack open Bourbon, and come along for the ride.

“A wonderfully entertaining look at American history as through the lens of Kentucky’s famous brown water. A must read.”
-- Bill Samuels, Jr., President Emeritus of Maker's Mark Distillery and 4th generation Kentucky Bourbon maker

“Made from New World corn and Old World techniques, Bourbon is the American Spirit. Dane Hucklebridge takes readers on an intoxicating romp through the history of bourbon from its humble colonial origins to its craft-driven current revival.”
-- Edward J. Larson, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History

“A witty and informative account of America’s much-loved national beverage. Dane Huckelbridge is the sage of sour-mash.”
-- John Baxter, author of The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France and The Most Beautiful Walk in the World

“Pour three fingers, crack open Dane Huckelbridge’s Bourbon, and prepare to be taken along on a strange tale of moonshiners, gun-slingers, hair-metal bands, and Brooklyn hipsters. The results: smooth.”
-- Pagan Kennedy, New York Times Magazine columnist

Dane Huckelbridge hails from the American Middle West and holds a degree in history from Princeton University. He is a cofounder of the international arts and culture magazine GUTFIRE!, and his work has appeared in various magazines and journals, including Tin House, New Delta Review, and Pology Magazine. He divides his time between New York City and Paris.