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American Still Life: The Jim Beam Story and the Making of the World's #1 Bourbon

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American Still Life: The Jim Beam Story and the Making of the World's #1 Bourbon
by F. Paul Pacult

How does a sour mash corn whiskey brand go from being a Kentucky family's "adjunct farming activity" to founding a corporation that ships over five million cases worldwide each year? Pacult (Kindred Spirits: The Spirit Journal Guide to the World's Distilled Spirits and Fortified Wines) extensively researched the story of the Beam family, which is just as much a 19th-and 20th-century American history. The young country's struggles with slavery, Prohibition and war, its sociopolitical maturation and its shift from the agricultural to an industrial economy all come into play. A prolific spirits writer, Pacult has an expert's grasp on the topic, which carries the book through its slow periods. Upstanding citizens to a man, the Beams don't always make for scintillating reading - no scoundrels, no scandals - and only Jim Beam's grandson Booker Noe, the refreshingly blunt, six-foot-four, 360-pound former master distiller, emerges as a character with any color. Trying to keep all the Beams straight might make readers feel like they've just downed a few shots of the bourbon itself. Most interesting is Pacult's examination of American popular culture and its effect on the bourbon business: how bourbon became déclassé in the 1970s, the venerable spirit losing out to sexy newcomer vodka (and its inadvertent pitchman, James Bond), and how scotch whiskey's rising popularity in the 1980s fueled the production of bourbon's answer to the single-malt, the small-batch bourbon. The book could use a few more colorful details, however, such as the bit about temperance activist Carry Nation and her ax attacks on taverns. (Aug.) (Publishers Weekly, June 16, 2003)

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