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on political books The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore The monopolist behind your favorite "craft" bourbon. By Leah Douglas P erusing the shelves of your local liquor store, you're presented with dozens of whiskeys to choose from. Their labels likely boast nostalgic imagery evocative of the American frontier, and perhaps, in the hipper parts of town, words like "craft," "single barrel," and "small batch." Maybe you gravitate toward your favorite, the basic but reliable bourbon you've mixed with ginger or bitters for decades. Or maybe you reach for a special bottle this time, one with a hand-printed label and an elaborate origin story for its namesake. Behind those shelves lies a complex history of regulation, corruption, wealth, and power. In his book Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey, Reid Mitenbuler seeks to illuminate some of the lesser-known aspects of bourbon's path to becoming America's signature spirit. Walking away from this book may leave you a bit discouraged about how readily we bourbon drinkers have consumed the industry's marketing ploys-terms like "craft" and "single barrel" are entirely unregulated, it turns out, and mean virtually nothing. And that legend on the label, detailing the namesake's hardscrabble success story, is almost certainly made up. (For instance, Michter's suggestion that George Washington served their alcohol to his troops during the Revolution makes for a good story, but in reality, the modern version of that brand, which purports to date back to 1753, has only existed since the 1990s.) In Mitenbuler's telling, however, those fabrications don't undermine the reality that even the large-batch, several-barrel bourbon we're drinking today is still high quality and authentic. Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler Viking, 320 pp. B ourbon Empire is primarily a history, one that stretches back to the eighteenth century. Mitenbuler uses the dichotomy of Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian politics to frame the industry's various themes and changing tides. This contrast is clearly illustrated by the fight over the controversial whiskey tax that led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 and embodied the core existential crises of a nation still finding its identity. Hamilton's advocacy for the tax positioned him as a friend of bankers, big business, and the elite. Jefferson's opposition allied him with small farmers and agrarianism writ large. While the tax did pass in 1791, it was repealed when Jefferson entered office in 1801. Mitenbuler describes the modern whiskey industry as a blend, as it were, of the visions of Jefferson and Hamilton. From its early days, the bourbon industry took great efforts to portray bourbon as "an icon of frontier independence-of Jefferson's yeoman farmer." But with many bottles to fill, Hamiltonianism had its charm: as Mitenbuler puts it bluntly, "Hamilton's vision was a good way to get that whiskey into bottles efficiently." After a choppy first few chapters-which mostly oscillate between describing the wonky details of how whiskey is made, and characterizing assorted presidents' alcohol Washington Monthly 121

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