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Book Review: Boozehound by Jason Wilson

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“Let’s be honest: As cultural activities go, there are few more popular than drinking.”

A couple of weeks ago I finished Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, by Jason Wilson. Mr. Wilson is the spirits writer for The Washington Post, which means that anyone reading this blog would drown a crate of kittens to have his job. Wilson has travelled all over the world tasting unusual and novel spirits and has gotten paid to do it. Yes, I hate him too.

But puting that aside, he has combined these experiences with pieces of his own life story and a fresh sense of humor to pen an entertaining and informative book. Any of you follow sports? Picture the Sportsguy of Now I Can die in Peace fame meets a professional drinker, though Wilson is a bit more subtle in his humor. Wilson documents his travels through numerous countries tasting some spirits that have since become famous, such as St. Germain, and others that are still unknown to the vast majority of Americans. Along the way, he also passes judgment on various brands of more common spirits, such as tequila, rum, and cognac. The end result is a treasure trove of information for casual drinkers, mixologists, and those of us wannabe geeks who just wish we had the money and time to indulge in Wilson’s world.

“I don’t mean to suggest that I had esoteric tastes as a teenager. In reality, I was a rube who subsisted on Gatorade and Ho Hos, gagged on mustard, and scraped the onions or mushrooms off any dish served with them.”

Wilson’s knowledge and opinions are woven throughout his stories of the concoctions he has encountered. Some of the highlights of the book are his rants on vodka and vodka martinis (which don’t exist), his criticisms of faux speakeasies (with which I concur), and his discussions of undervalued staples like vermouth and slow gin. His descriptions will also make you long for spirits you have never tasted or even heard of before. Wilson’s narrative makes brews such as Dubonnet Rouge, Tuaca, Aperol, Barolo Chinato, Cocchi Aperitivo Americano, and Aquavit sound particularly appealing.

If I had to come up with a criticism of the book, it may be that parts of it are too obscure. It took a while for a relative novice like me to get fully engaged and left me wishing that Wilson might have front-loaded the basics that he does cover. That said, Wilson brings it all back home at the end for those of us who are relatively uneducated, including his suggestions for the essential elements of a home bar. This is the most practical part of a book that was not meant to be practical, and it was nice of Wilson to include it. Boozehound is a great read, just be ready to expand your horizons.

When you have finished Boozehound, keep your eyes open for Wilson’s next book. The working title is Questionable Taste, and the author describes it as “explorations into drinking well.” It won’t be out for a while, but that just gives you more time to try everything you read about in Boozehound — if you can find it.

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