The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar

The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the BarA few months back I was able to visit one of the more notable whiskey bars in the country, Aero Club in San Diego. While there I was able to speak at length about whiskey to manager Chad Berkey. During our conversation, he told me about a writing project he was working on with coauthor Jeremy LeBlanc, and I was intrigued. One of the key elements would be a panel of his bartenders also giving their thoughts on the whiskey, showing how every review, no matter how in-depth, is still just a collection of personal preferences. Having multiple voices gives every drinker a more informed opinion from which to make better selections.  So when I had the opportunity to review the book, I was definitely up for the task!

There are, of course multiple whiskey review books available.  Some go for quantity, covering over 4,000 spirits, but lack meaningful comments for the majority of its listings. Others focus on a specific region, cutting back on quantity to make room for quality. This book goes a little further, focusing on North American whiskey, and specifically ones that can be found in the Aero Club itself. I suppose you could see this as a very elaborate commercial for the bar. That it may be, but it is no less valuable to all drinkers. One benefit is that the whiskeys reviewed are all available to some extent. No rare gems you’ll never see outside of the auction block!

The book is divided into two sections: Whiskey and Cocktails. The whiskey section is further categorized into these sections, with each section getting a short, educational write-up:
Bourbon
Tennessee
Rye
Canadian
Blended/Other
Wheat
Corn/White
Malt

Extra content includes a whiskey and cigar pairing chart and a “bucket list” of rarer whiskeys that the authors recommend you keep on eye out for.

The write-ups for the whiskies give a small summary of the experience along with interesting facts. One nice touch is the “Related” line that lists whiskeys you might find to be of similar experience. Each is also rated by “Propellers” instead of stars in keeping with the Aero Club theme (the bar is just a stone’s throw from the airport).

A page from the whiskeys section.
A page from the whiskeys section.

The cocktails section gives a full-page treatment to each of the 34 recipes, mostly to make room for the coffee-table book style photography of the finished drinks.

Their selection process is obviously not inclusive, and there are some notable holes, but that is really just the nature of this type of book. I can’t really cite that as a negative since even The Whisky Bible misses some. The weakest section is Wheat with only four inclusions, but then again there are fewer to chose from. Curious is the absence of Burnheim’s Wheat Whiskey primarily because it is a featured ingredient in one of their cocktails.

A plus is the inclusion of Canadian, a category that often gets short shrift in other whiskey books.

The Introduction and the section intros are well-written, contain just enough information to be interesting, but short enough to not sound like a textbook. Perfect for this book.

Overall, my excitement when I first heard about this project was justified. This is the way whiskey books should be written. Good photography, easy-to-read layout and just plain-old good information make this an excellent book for any whiskey lover’s home bar.