According to industry authority the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), since 2015, the luxury American whiskey category has grown at an astonishing annual rate of 41 percent. Super-premium whiskies have experienced an even more staggering increase. It’s one of the drinks business’s most toast-worthy success stories, yet it’s hard to attribute the surge to just one source. “Everyone has a pet theory for why whiskey has come back in such a big way,” as seasoned spirits writer Clay Risen puts it in his beautiful new industry bible, Bourbon: The Story of Kentucky Whiskey, recently published by Ten Speed Press.
One explanation, he notes, “relies on the logic of generations. Like the ebb and flow of baby names, the love of whiskey skips generations. While that seems too simplistic on its own, it does make a certain sense when paired with another theory. The tastes of Americans in the early 21st century, from clothes to food to home décor, are the result of a long-term, wholesale rejection of the processed and prepackaged culture of the postwar era that crested in the 1980s.” Bourbon in particular “speaks to that revolt, promising an honest, tried-and-true American drink.”
A “hallmark of today’s drinker, and a possible explanation for bourbon’s return,” Risen writes, “is the search for connoisseurship without pretension. People want to know about what they’re drinking, but they’re afraid of looking like snobs. Bourbon threads that particular needle. With its historical roots and technical nuances of production, it is tailor-made for nerding out. But it’s hard to get fancy about something with such a blue-collar pedigree. People’s curiosity about bourbon is honest and refreshing.”
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