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Whiskey: A Global History

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A Manhattan or a Sazerac; neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of soda—no matter how it’s served up, whiskey is synonymous with the poet’s inspiration and the devil’s spirit. Be it bourbon, rye, corn, Irish, or Scotch, whiskey has an infamous and celebrated history from a sometimes lethal, herb-infused concoction to a high-quality, meticulously crafted liquor.

            In Whiskey, Kevin R. Kosardelivers an informative, concise narrative of the drink’s history, from its obscure medieval origins to the globally traded product that it is today. Focusing on three nations—Scotland, Ireland, and America—Kosarcharts how the technique of distillation moved from ancient Egypt to the British Isles. Contrary to popular claims, there were no good old days of whiskey: before the twentieth century, consumers could never be sure just what was being poured in their cup—unscrupulous profiteers could distill anything into booze and pawn it off as whiskey. Eventually, government and industry established legal definitions of what whiskey is and how it could be made, allowing for the distinctive styles of whiskey known today.

Whiskey explains what whiskey is, how it is made, and how the types of whiskey differ. With a list of suggested brands and classic cocktail recipes for the thirsty reader, this book is perfect for drink and food enthusiasts and history lovers alike.

144 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Kevin R. Kosar

22 books21 followers

I am the co-editor of Congress Overwhelmed: Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform (2020), the coauthor of Unleashing Opportunity: Policy Reforms for an Accountable Administrative State (2017), and the author of: Ronald Reagan and Education Policy (2011); Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education (2005), Whiskey: A Global History (2010), and Moonshine: A Global History (2017).

I have written for the New York Times, Washington Monthly magazine, Washington Post, Public Administration Review, and various journals, magazines, and newspapers.

I blog and edit at AlcoholReviews.com, Federal Education Policy History website, and Kosar's Fishing Notes.

I work at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC. I earned my Ph.D. in politics from New York University and have lived in Washington, DC since 2003.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for Sesana.
5,006 reviews348 followers
October 31, 2011
Park of Reaktion's Edible series. Like all the books in the series, it's a brief, but fairly comprehensive history of whiskey. I've read a longer and more in depth book about whiskey, and if that's what you're looking for, this one won't satisfy. But if you just want a brief introduction to the subject, this is the book for you. And since I'll take pretty much any book about any foodstuff, brief or in depth, I loved it. It's nicely illustrated, too, which makes it a nice book just to look through. The covers of the whole series are essentially identical, and attractive.
Profile Image for Rob.
Author 2 books365 followers
October 14, 2016
A great overview of how whiskey is made, and the spirit's history in the major whiskey-producing nations (Scotland, Ireland, and the United States). It has an easy, conversational tone and tries to cover the subject in very broad strokes--it is NOT a tasting guide; it is NOT a guide to Scotches; it is NOT about how to distill your own. But if you're just looking for a bird's eye view of whiskey and how to explain the difference between bourbon and rye, then this is the book for you.
Profile Image for Colin Dodds.
Author 23 books101 followers
August 5, 2011
Kevin Kosar's Whiskey: A Global History is a definitive guide to the spirit-how it's made, where it comes from, its mysterious history, how it shaped the identity and destiny of nations. It will tell you everything about whiskey except what, exactly, it did to your twenties. The book is a masterful guide to whiskies of all sorts, scotch, bourbon, Irish, Canadian and American. It is detailed and informative without being pedantic, and entertaining without straying off topic. From the cloudy particulars of biblical time, through Egyptian and Irish prehistory, through the alchemists' laboratories to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, prohibition and the present, Whiskey: A Global History tells a vast story without ever seeming to skim. A slender volume, the book nonetheless packs a wallop. In addition to a detailed and fascinating history, it has enough technical information that I was tempted to start distilling. Somehow, Kosar even found room for an impressive array of historical images about whiskey dating back hundreds of years. And at the end, once you've learned the space you occupy in whiskey's rich and raucous history, Whiskey: A Global History gives you a series of classic whiskey cocktail recipes so you may raise your glass and take your place in that history.

Profile Image for Tara Brabazon.
Author 22 books317 followers
October 18, 2014
This is a solid contribution to the Reaktion Books "Edible Series." While the Champagne volume is more successful, Kosar is able to review the distinctive, but also intertwined, histories of whiskey in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States. Recent histories of micro-distilleries are also addressed.

The alignment between the wets and the dries - the drinkers and the regulators - is carefully considered in this short history, along with the impact of both prohibition and regulation.
Profile Image for Topherjaynes.
167 reviews5 followers
January 27, 2013
A very quick and interesting read, in fact you can probably consume this in the same time it takes to enjoy a nice scotch.

Kosar, doesn't go the typical route of describing tastes or, as he says, giving into the PR from large distilleries of the virtues of whisky. He takes times to break out the different processes and ingredients of whisky by geography --America, Scottish, and Irish.

Great introductory read.
Profile Image for Adam.
59 reviews3 followers
December 3, 2013
Short, simple, and to the point, this book gives a quick crash course in the history of whiskey. Nothing spectacular here, but I still learned a few things in it. Read it if you want a place to start out in your quest to understand whiskey.
Profile Image for Tom.
449 reviews5 followers
February 18, 2011
nice smaill overview of Whiskey. Kosar talks about how it started, how it is made and the main Whiskey producing countries. I think I will have a wee dram or two with it!
Profile Image for Luke Alonso.
9 reviews
February 19, 2014
Fun and light history of whiskey. I learned a few things and picked up some extra knowledge to drop in bar conversations.
26 reviews
September 25, 2018
A Quick Read

This was a quick read but lacked depth.There was little mention of taste and would have been a better read if the author had included some personal information about preference.
Profile Image for Collin Huber.
118 reviews20 followers
February 27, 2017
Kosar provides a simple yet thorough overview of whiskey, both its history and development. Rather than focus on one region or style, he devotes individual chapters to Scotch, Irish whiskey, and American whiskey. In addition, he includes chapters describing the process and different styles of whiskey. A helpful and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Kevin Kosar.
Author 22 books21 followers
May 24, 2011
“‘Whiskey,’ at 144 pages, is the perfect primer for the person who wants to quickly learn the basics.”—Jason Wilson, Washington Post

“Kevin Kosar might be the most thoughtful boozehound you’ll ever meet.”—Todd Kliman, Washingtonian magazine

“This is a great book for the someone looking for information and the history of whiskey. It is a very informative and an entertaining read for both the casual and serious student of distilled beverages…. I think it would be a great book for teaching people about whiskey—liquor companies should buy a large quantity to train their staff and/or customers. Highly recommended—especially as a side with your whiskey. —Chris Carlsson, SpiritsReview.com

“Scotch purists may splutter over Kosar’s planet-wide perspective: note his spelling. But open-minded readers, and drinkers, will raise a glass to his elan and expertise.” —Boyd Tonkin, Independent (UK)

“[P]ages of this pocket-size guide are filled with … charm and erudition.”—Alasdair Buchan, Diplomat magazine (UK)

“Kevin R. Kosar… has written a brief, informative, and endlessly diverting history of whiskey.” —Philip Terzian, The Weekly Standard

“With maps, antique illustrations and advertisements, charts and photos, this global history distills the spirit in a ways that’s accessible and engaging.”—Liza Weisstuch, Massachusetts Beverage Business

“Whiskey: A Global History is nicely illustrated with vintage photographs, advertisements, and cartoons, and packed with factoids and stories.”—Karen Lyon, Hill Rag
143 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2014
This is a very good primer for readers just getting into whisky. It does not go into very much detail on any topic, but still contains plenty that is of interest. It is also highly readable and goes fast.
Profile Image for Paul.
147 reviews2 followers
February 7, 2013
This is a very basic history of whiskey that, while interesting, is very macro in scope. The editing is poor and distracting - typos exist and some writing is labored when it doesn't have to be. The net effect is that it was hurried.
3 reviews
December 30, 2010
Fantastic little overview of the origins of whiskey - and why there were no "good old days" for the beverage. Who knew that politics could so dramatically shape what we drink today.
112 reviews6 followers
June 7, 2015
Valuable insights on this history and differences between kinds of whiskeys.
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews

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