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American Still Life - Book Review

The Jim Beam Story and the Making of the World's #1 Bourbon

by F. Paul Pacult

(John Wiley & Sons, 2003)

American Still Life by F. Paul Pacult
Beginning in 1795 with the sale of his first “Old Jake Beam Sour Mash,” Jacob Beam and the seven generations of sons and grandsons after him would establish a true American dynasty, built on a foundation of hard work, business savvy and a simple amber-colored beverage.

Wine and spirits writer F. Paul Pacult documents the growth of the Beam family saga, from pioneer Jacob Beam’s migration to wild “Kentucke” to the apprenticeship of young James “Jim” Beam, the forefather for the family’s modern-day operations. The knowledgeable Pacult interweaves this family chronicle with the history of American spirits, providing readers with an in-depth look at the bourbon industry, from its beginnings as corn mash to its rise as an American cultural symbol.

More of a history book than a novel, American Still Life is painstakingly accurate in descriptions and details. Pacult’s accounts of the Whiskey Rebellion and the Civil War are highly reminiscent of grade school, with teachers rattling out dates and names that students could never remember in time for the pop quizzes. However, Pacult balances the dry facts with interesting tidbits on whiskey, including an explanation of the “Angel’s share” and a tongue-in-cheek lesson on vodka’s threat to the bourbon industry. This is the material wine and spirit aficionados live for, so boring history aside, American Still Life is a decent fireside read — complete with slippers, bathrobe, and of course, a neat glass of Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

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(Updated 05/23/13 BH)

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