Celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month With These Bourbon Books

Nobody in Kentucky needs a reason to celebrate bourbon more than we already do each day, but if Congress wants to dedicate a whole month to the cause, we certainly won’t object. Thankfully, Congress did just that in 2007 when it declared September National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Over the past decade, bourbon has exploded on the national scene in a big way finally catching up with what Kentuckians knew all along. Here at the University Press of Kentucky, we’ve long been connoisseurs of the historic spirit so we’ve compiled a list books that should interest everyone from the bourbon historian to the home cook. Enjoy and read responsibly!


Bourbon New Books on America's Native Spiritmanhattan.final.inddThe Manhattan Cocktail covers everything that the aficionado needs to know about the classic cocktail through an examination of its history and ingredients. Author Albert W. A. Schmid dispels several persistent myths, including the tale that the Manhattan was created in 1874 by bartenders at New York City’s Manhattan Club to honor the newly elected Governor Samuel Jones Tilden at Lady Randolph Churchill’s request. Schmid also explores the places and people that have contributed to the popularity of the drink and inspired its lore, including J. P. Morgan, who enjoyed a Manhattan every day at the end of trading on Wall Street.


PeacheeCvCompF.inddIn The Birth of Bourbon, award-winning photographer Carol Peachee takes readers on an unforgettable tour of lost distilleries as well as facilities undergoing renewal, such as the famous Old Taylor and James E. Pepper distilleries in Lexington, Kentucky. This beautiful book also includes spaces that well-known brands, including Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace, have preserved as a homage to their rich histories.


If it’s a month-long bourbon tour you’re looking for, this travel guide will not let you down.

Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide

Like wine lovers who dream of traveling to Bordeaux or beer enthusiasts with visions of the breweries of Belgium, bourbon lovers plan their pilgrimages to Kentucky’s bourbon country. And what a country it is! Some of the most famous distilleries are tucked away in the scenic countryside of the Bluegrass region, stretching between Louisville, Bardstown, and Lexington. Locals and tourists alike seek out the finest flavors of Kentucky as interest in America’s only native spirit continues to grow.


If you would like to learn a bit more about that bourbon heritage you’re celebrating (read: drinking), these next books will help turn you into the bourbon historian at your next cocktail party.

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage

Historian Michael R. Veach reveals the true story of bourbon in Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. Starting with the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, he traces the history of this unique beverage through the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and up to the present. Veach explores aspects of bourbon that have been ignored by others, including the technology behind its production, the effects of the Pure Food and Drug Act, and how Prohibition contributed to the Great Depression. The myths surrounding bourbon are legion, but Veach separates fact from legend. While the true origin of the spirit may never be known for certain, he proposes a compelling new theory.

The Social History of Bourbon

Not a recipe book or a barman’s guide, but a fascinating and informative contribution to Americana, The Social History of Bourbon reflects an aspect of our national cultural identity that many have long suppressed or overlooked. Gerald Carson explores the impact of the liquor’s presence during America’s early development, as well as bourbon’s role in some of the more dramatic events in American history, including the Whiskey Rebellion, the scandals of the Whiskey Ring, and the “whiskey forts” of the fur trade. The Social History of Bourbon is a revealing look at the role of this classic beverage in the development of American manners and culture.

Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking

Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking tells the story of bourbon’s evolution, debunking many popular myths along the way. Back in print for the first time in twenty five years, Kentucky Bourbon looks at a variety of subjects from the role of alcohol in colonial America and in the lives of frontiersmen to the importance of the Kentucky product in the Revolutionary War. Like a fine liquor, the book has aged well in its elegance and complexity.

Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia

Homemade liquor has played a prominent role in the Appalachian economy for nearly two centuries. The region endured profound transformations during the extreme prohibition movements of the nineteenth century, when the manufacturing and sale of alcohol—an integral part of daily life for many Appalachians—was banned.


Now that you’re a bourbon-buff, you might be in the mood for an actual drink. These books will not only help you craft the perfect cocktail but will fill you in on the back story of these famous bourbon drinks.

The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail

In The Old Fashioned, Gourmand Award–winning author Albert W. A. Schmid profiles the many people and places that have contributed to the drink’s legend since its origin. This satisfying book explores the history of the Old Fashioned through its ingredients and accessories—a rocks glass, rye whiskey or bourbon, sugar, bitters, and orange zest to garnish—and details the cocktail’s surprising influence on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Broadway musical scene, as well as its curious connection to the SAT college entrance examination.

The Kentucky Mint Julep

The ultimate guide to the quintessential Derby drink! A simple concoction—bourbon, mint, sugar, and water—the mint julep is legendary. Few people know its history and even fewer know how to properly mix this classic cocktail. Lighthearted, entertaining, and informative, The Kentucky Mint Julep explores the lore and legend of the Kentucky Derby’s traditional tipple.


Travel guide? Check. History? Check. Drink in hand? Check.

How about a bourbon-inspired meal and dessert? Check.

Bourbon Desserts

Every holiday party is made warmer with bourbon balls and velvety bourbon eggnog, and no respectable Kentucky Derby party is complete without ice-cold mint juleps. Bourbon Desserts features more than seventy-five decadent desserts using America’s native spirit. Celebrated food writer and home chef Lynn Marie Hulsman brings together a collection of confections highlighting the complex flavor notes of Kentucky bourbon, which are sure to delight the senses.

The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook

“This impressively accurate account of the history and impact of bourbon in America is chock-full of recipes to help celebrate bourbon’s versatility and personality.”

—Gale Gand, host of Food Network’s Sweet Dreams and a judge on Top Chef


Finally, while this may not be a book about bourbon, this book’s subject, Belle Brezing, has a bourbon-focused cocktail bar named after her in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. You can be sure that Madam Belle enjoyed a bourbon or two in her day…

Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel

In this revealing book, Maryjean Wall offers a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for Hill, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment—her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her gilt-and-mirror mansion.

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