Book review: 'The Curious Bartender's Whiskey Road Trip', by Tristan Stephenson

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

07 November 2019

Tristan Stephenson is back with the seventh book in his Curious Bartender series – eighth if you count his Curious Barista’s Guide to Coffee – and his latest missive is yet another gem for drinks professionals to get their teeth into.

Called the Whiskey Road Trip, the book takes the form of just that – a 10,000-mile trip from the east to west coast of America, with profiles on 44 distilleries along the way.

What Stephenson has masterfully managed to do here is tell America’s history of whiskey distillation, from the arrival of the first colonists in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, in parallel with the current US whiskey boom.

Each featured distillery has something unusual to add to the story, from Copper Fox’s on-site traditional floor maltings and the use of fruit woods in both smoking its barley and infusing the ageing spirits; to the unusual stills with their coiled lyne arms and seven-day fermentations of Balcones.

Alongside all this, Stephenson manages to weave in all the requisite information needed in a spirits book in terms of how whiskey is produced and how to taste it.

At the end of each distillery entry are a handful of product tasting notes, and cocktail recipes are scattered in relevant places, such as Martha Washington’s Cherry Bounce recipe following on from the entry about George Washington’s Distillery (who knew that the first President of the US had a very successful whiskey distillery that has been rebuilt in recent years?).

Those looking for a book that only celebrates the US craft distilling scene will be disappointed here – there’s an excellent balance between the behemoths of Jack Daniel’s and Wild Turkey and the upstarts of the scene, providing a rounded snapshot of the current US whiskey landscape.

Design-wise, Stephenson has teamed up with photographer Addie Chinn yet again, meaning that this book is studded with beautiful, evocative photography not just of the distilleries themselves and the products they make, but some incredible landscape shots too, ensuring that the reader is well and truly brought along for the ride.

The result is an expressively written book that has plenty of space for poetry among all the historical and technical gems of information. ‘Like bank robbers on the run, the Rockies have served as a colossal roadblock hampering our escape west, which we’ve spent about a week trying to navigate around,’ he writes at the start of High West’s chapter, before successfully bringing the ski-in, ski-out Utah distillery to life in the following pages.

If you can wait, this is definitely one to add to your Christmas present list.

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