Imbibe Hour

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review: Boozehound by Jason Wilson

When I first got in to cocktails and spirits, there were many sources I went to. Part of that had to do with moving to DC many years ago and reading the Washington Post. DC has been my home for almost a decade as I write this, and it has been an imbibing joy. One person who has made that much more enjoyable is the spirits columnist for the Washington Post named Jason Wilson. Many of his articles I enjoyed reading and still do as he writes stories about upcoming spirits and cocktails. I hold him personally responsible for making me like Plymouth Gin. That was a hard thing to do, since for many years I made many Gin and Tonics for my mother and never understood what the big deal was. I realized... there was much to learn (and no she didn't use Plymouth in them either...).

Jason has published a book called Boozehound, which I would describe as not a 'cocktail book' (although it contains recipes), but perhaps a first of its kind, a "spirit memoir".

Jason tells his tales in the past starting from his youth in Jersey with Sambuca, to traveling around the world chasing spirits of true Agave tequila, to great digestifs in Italy, to understanding rhum agricole and the wonder it can bring to a persons palate.

The book is not pretentious. A particular section I enjoyed a lot was about the "speakeasy" trend (or is it?) that has been happening with "cocktail nerds" and the conflicting feelings he has towards it. For many, the speakeasy trend has ushered in proper drinks and knowledge about how to drink and make true proper cocktails, but it has also created and elitist class and what I call a so called wine-snob effect. I can relate to this often myself particularly since I've been to many of the DC speakeasy places he mentions (there aren't many) and walked away with the same conflicting emotions.

The book is not a treatise on how one should seek out certain drinks, and that they should be forced to imbibe and like certain spirits. Jason walks us through many passages on his educational journey which many of us can relate to, the girl you fell for but wouldn't give you the time of day, the foreign bottle in your parents liquor cabinet and its mysteriousness, to finally breaking free making your own identity as a young adult, putting a drink/liqueur/spirit in your hands and tasting it... relishing it for the first time with joy.

That is part of the great experience in reading Jason's book. You don't just get his experiences of enjoying Cognac in France, or rustic adventures in Haiti, you get to relate and impart your own sense of joy of drinking and the places that your life took you along the journey. As many of the chapters conclude, a break in the action is taken with drink recipes. Some are standards, some are creations from other people, some are also his own, but they all make you reflect on what you just read with a sense of importance and make you want to drop what you are doing, and make the drink FIRST before you do anything further. A stinger is a simple great drink that is mentioned in the book, but when Jason suddenly gives a justification for a Stinger Royale (a stinger made with just a dash of Absinthe) after talking about his roaming in France you want to just drop what you are doing and make one on the spot.

Reading Jason's book was an incredible sense of deja vu and it should be for anyone who enjoys good drink. There were many places I had been in my life and drink was part of it, just as Jason's had been and that is the success with this book.

Boozehound isn't about drink, it isn't even about how to make drinks, or how to enjoy Cognac, or to understand why rhum agricole is a big deal. Yes that is part of it. But what Boozehound does so much for its readers is that it makes a memory of imbibing, without being grandiose, superficial or pig headed. Boozehound's greatest asset is that it connects the reader with the joy of drinking and imparts your own experiences with drinking on to his. When you read Jason's adventures as obscure, even outrageous as they might be, you're really experiencing your own joy of drink. This book isn't about him, it's about how the memory of drink, it's flavor, smells, texture, finishes, place in time of your life is so important, and why you drive and continue the same passions as he does.

You want to physically be there and wrap the glass in your hands, share his memory, and be there with him as you read the words, and dream of the tastes within the pages.

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