I initially discovered Jason Wilson because he is the series editor of the Best American Travel Writing series. His introduction to the 2009 edition was moving and informative — something a lot of introduction fail epically at doing. He is the liquor columnist at the Washington Post and wrote a book about liquor.
It is adventurous, interesting and informative. He is a witty and blunt writer whose opinions are to be found everywhere as is his passion for the subject matter. He discusses the history of liquor and mixed drinks and ties it back to prohibition. It is interesting to think about how prohibition hindered the bartending profession and shaped the drinks that are served at bars all over North America. Wilson tries to take an approach that brings in history, culture and chemistry to build an understanding of liquor for the less informed.
What does it mean to most people that a spirit is “prickly” or “silky and rich” or that it tastes of “Danish and black raisins”? If I tell people that a cognac is “mature yet owns the promise of youthfulness,” will they now understand what I mean? Do I understand what that means? No, this was no way to change people’s hearts and minds and introduce them to the wide world of flavors. This was too much like the language of wine, and so many critics had already ruined the enjoyment of wine. I wasn’t going to be an accomplice in that sort of thing when it came to spirits.
Wilson ties memories to spirits instead of just throwing out words. It can often be hard to review something or give an idea of what it tastes like, sounds like, looks like when all those things are tied to things outside words, things that for Wilson are untranslatable or ineffable. He also writes about spirits in the context of geography and takes us on journeys to Norway and Italy as he tastes local spirits and drinks with locals.
As a lover of the fauxtinis that Wilson is so dismissive of, given new life by J.D. of Scrubs and his appletini addiction — nectarinis are better in my personal opinion — I am the audience that created the flavoured vodka trend he so despises, or at least I was right after I turned 18 and didn’t know what to order aside from rum and cokes. I am not a boozehound of spirit nerd and neither are my friends. We drink what tastes good and what is affordable. I don’t have a taste for wine and I find real martinis to be toxic tasting. I do enjoy beer — although my taste is usually based on whatever happens to be on special.
It is nice to receive a bit of an education about the drinks that are out there looming in menus and pop culture beyond my understanding and palate. Wilson has an excellent sense of humour that makes the book interesting through and through.
Please understand: I am by no means here to defend the Redheaded Slut. I think anyone who serves one of those 1980s shots-with-a-naughty-name — Sex on the Beach, Slippery Nipple, Screaming Orgasm, Dirty Girl Scout — should be forced to listen to an iPod that plays only Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” over and over again.
He includes recipes for drinks at the end of every chapter and some of them sound very interesting. I would love to try some but don’t have a plentiful liquor cabinet or $80 to spend on a bottle of cognac. Also, having read 100 pages so far today I would be in bad shape if I drank them all.
Like most good writing on a specialized topic Boozehound is informative and accessible. One doesn’t have to know what any of the liquors Wilson lists off actually taste like, they just have to feel their mind opening as they become aware of something new and informative or at the very least you will think about the marketing campaign that is the reason your friends want to do a round of Jaggermeister as opposed to something else.