Author: Mark Spivak
Genre: Non-Fiction (Popular Culture / History / Alcohol / Food & Wine)
Publisher/Publication Date: Lyons Press (2012)
Source: Pump Up Your Book!
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A look at twelve popular liquors and the history of their most popular brands.
Reading Challenges: Dewey Decimal,
Do I like the cover?: I've got no strong feelings -- it's fine for what it is, it resembles what it is.
I'm reminded of...: Jeffrey Steingarten
First line: What's a lifelong, committed wine geek doing writing a book about spirits?
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you've got a foodie or nascent booze hound in your life.
Why did I get this book?: I love drinking. Wait, I mean that in a less horrifying way!
Review: I love cocktails. I don't watch Mad Men but I'm grateful for the resurgence in cocktail culture. Spivak's book is perfectly timed for those who are obsessed with martinis and those who are a little curious.
Iconic Spirits is a series of readable, nerdy, trivia-filled essays on twelve of the world's most popular and, well, iconic alcoholic spirits. This volume isn't a historical survey or even a popular non-fiction look at how these spirits were developed or evolved. Instead, Spivak chooses a snapshot moment to explore, a chapter in the long histories of alcohol.
Opening with a chapter on American moonshine, Spivak surprised me by not talking about how moonshine is made, or the Prohibition or Whiskey Rebellion, and instead focused on how early 20th century moonshine runners were the forefathers of NASCAR drivers. The moonshiners interest in fast stock cars and flashy driving became commodified and eventually family friendly-ified; the earliest NASCAR winners were notorious moonshiners. The chapter concluded, as they all do, with a series of recipes.
Vodka's chapter is focused specifically on the Grey Goose brand and how it achieved its luxury appeal; the bitters chapter looks at the Italian liquor, Campari. Spivak takes on cognac -- and many of its myths -- as well as tequila, rum, gin, scotch, absinthe, St. Germain (elderflower liquor), whisky, and the famous brands associated with each.
Mixing interviews, scientific research, trivia, and an obvioius enthusiasm for his subjects, Spivak's book is like having a non-pretentious cocktail geek hanging out with you. The book includes color-plates of ads (pretty!) and an extensive bibliography.
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