Two books span the worlds of wine, whiskey


Sometimes it seems that there are nearly as many wine and booze books being published as there are new bottles of wine and booze being released. Not all of it is good. But here are two that are.

“Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2019” (Mitchel Beazley: 2018; 336 pages; $16.99). One of the most prolific wine writers around, and to my mind the most interesting, Hugh Johnson has done it again with his annual mini-encyclopedia.

In its information-crammed pages the genial British critic spans the wine world, editorializing the big picture, while updating vintages reports, and offering sage advice on buying wine, matching food and wine and suggesting new wines and new varietals.

His regional overviews remain focused, brief, updated and smart. His two pages on Israel, for example, are excellent guides to the uninitiated.

Israel is part of his Eastern Mediterranean section. Some 40 Israeli wineries are mentioned and rated. His top-rated winery is Tzora Vineyards (with the maximum four stars); followed by Castel, Clos de Gat, Margalit and Sphera (these last three are not kosher). Under kosher he astutely notes: “Necessary for religious Jews. Irrelevant to quality. Wines can be” Indeed. This edition reconfirms this annual pocket-sized guide in the indispensable category.

Spirits-wise, British writer Dominic Roskrow has a smart and handsome new book: “Whiskey America: The Essential Guide to the U.S. Distilling Revolution” (Mitchel Beazley: 2018; 288 pages; $29.99). Roskrow — the former editor of Whisky Magazine, The Spirits Business and Whiskeria, and author of eight other books on whisky — attempts to unpack the explosion of craft distillers in America, and give a context for consumers to “orientate themselves” and to “embolden them to explore.”

Until around 2003 there were “less than 10 bourbon producers in Kentucky and a smattering of independent producers scattered around the country,” he writes, while today “the number of distilleries is 1,500 and climbing.”

Roskrow’s focus is to understand the craft distilling movement today, so his historical and cultural treatments — beginning in 1775 — are purposefully, and intelligently, light. He deftly and briefly saunters through the big players, the craft pioneers and some of the better micro-distillers. He asks and attempts to answer some important questions: Why did the American craft revolution happen? What is Craft or Micro-Distilling? and Why has there been a boom?

His answers are worth reading. The heart of the book, however, is easily the chapter in which he surveys and highlights his selection of America’s top craft distilleries across 120 beautifully photographed pages. Among the included entries are the (kosher certified) Catoctin Creek in Purcellville, Va., and Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville. Every distillery I’d expect to find there was included, and dozens more I’d never even heard of.

The rest of the book feels a little bit thrown together, but not in a bad way: “100 great American whiskeys you should try,” “the world’s best American whiskey bars” and a “Whiskey Directory” offering names and websites.

One final note: More often than not, book-length treatments on whisky are boring, pseudo-academic tomes. Roskrow, by merciful contrast, writes in a genuinely engaging, clear and succinct style, opting for veracity rather than marketing-corrected stories. L’chaim!

Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].

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