Boozehound (Book Review)

April 24, 2012

‘Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits’ is a great book by Jason Wilson, spirits columnist for the Washington Post.

You can read some of his columns here. They’re pretty good. Excellent in fact. But the book is much better. I’d go so far as to call it my favourite cocktail/spirits book.

I’m something of a failure at being a boozehound myself. I have neither the time, budget, or inclination to become a complete pisshead. But I am passionate about good cocktails, spirits and liqueurs, of late. So when I can’t actually mix a drink, I’ll read about them. And for every bottle I buy there’s ten more that I can’t afford, and another half-dozen that I can’t even find. So reading these books is kind of like booze porn for me.

Jason Wilson has no such problems. Thanks to his job he gets to travel the world tasting expensive beverages and sampling rare and expensive vintages. And he writes about it for our vicarious enjoyment.

It’s like travel writing for booze.

Wilson’s book is not just a collection of his columns, either (unlike the work of another spirits columnist that I’ve read). He has taken his material and worked it into not only topics, but what really feels like a narrative – a journey through booze.

And the good points keep coming. Best of all, he adds half a dozen or so cocktail recipes at the end of each chapter, related to the spirits and liqueurs he has been discussing.

Being about the rare and obscure, there’s a certain obsession with Italian bitters, aperitif wines and expensive eau-de-vie that I can never hope to acquire here in Taipei, but there’s also a good coverage of the basic vintage cocktails re-popularised by the classic cocktail movement, and good basic spirits that you’ll find anywhere. Discussions and recipes range from things everyone knows like Martinis and Manhattans, to the rediscovered pre-prohibition new-old classics like the Aviation and the Martinez, to new drinks like the Boris Karloff and the Agavoni. And much more in between.

Wilson is self-effacingly modest and very funny. He somehow manages to take his self-professed cocktail geekdom very seriously while at the same time laughing at taking it seriously. He takes shots at both the marketing of endless variations of flavoured vodka on the one hand, and ultra-hip exclusive cocktail joints that won’t, on principle, even sell vodka, on the other hand.

As someone just getting into this whole new cocktail scene, I found Wilson’s book not only extremely informative and entertaining, but also very inspiring, making me want to try all these different obscure drinks.

Boozehound gets the big thumbs up from me!


7 Responses to “Boozehound (Book Review)”

  1. putneyfarm Says:

    I will check it out, thx…Funny about the vodka thing. I do worry at a bar when the cocktail menu features a bunch of Vodka drinks. Does that make me a snob?

  2. theboolion Says:

    Well, every movement, even a cocktail movement, needs something to rebel against, right? And vodka was just getting too silly not to take shots at. Jason Wilson has a real go at all the flavoured versions, listing, amongst others, pink lemonade vodka, sweet tea vodka, cola vodka, root beer vodka, sake vodka, protein powder vodka, Dutch caramel vodka, espresso vodka, double espresso vodka, triple espresso vodka, mojito mint vodka and bubble gum vodka.

    Personally I find it quite ridiculous that one of my favourite drinks, the Martini, can now mean a straight vodka, shaken. So, while I’m not rabidly anti-vodka, I can really see where the anti-vodka crowd are coming from.

    But Wilson balances it somewhat with an anecdote about how he was meeting some friends at a new ultra-hip vintage cocktail bar. He’d just come back from Europe with some actual Kina Lillet. They were thrilled that they could now try the original recipe of the Vesper and went up to the bar to try it, only to be told “Sorry, we don’t have any vodka”.

  3. […] to finish off , so I went for one more rum and ginger beer highball, which I found in ‘Boozehound’, but comes from bartending great Dale […]

  4. […] first book review, ‘Boozehound’ was cocktail travelogue. The last one, ‘Imbibe’ was cocktail history and archaeology. […]

  5. […] in Jason Wilson’s book Boozehound, which I admire a lot, he has this Papa […]

  6. […] a smokey Islay really works. I think I had a drink called ‘Under the Tartan Sun’ (from Boozehound) in mind when I thought of Tuaca as a sweetener. Tuaca is an Italian vanilla liqueur, so you could […]

  7. […] this variation to bartender Chris Cunningham, and writes of it, and other variations, in his book ‘Boozehound’, and in a Washington Post […]

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