John Wiley & Sons
Hard cover, $24.95, 240 pages
In the preface to American Still Life, drinks journalist F. Paul Pacult ac-knowledges that he was focused almost solely on wine until 1989, when he was given an assignment by the New York Times to write editorial copy for a special advertising section on Scotch whisky. Pacult’s world up to that point was pretty much red or white. Suddenly, the color brown took on new meaning and importance.
Pacult’s decision to venture beyond the vineyard and write about spirits has served to elevate the general public’s understanding of and appreciation for some of the greatest beverages in the world. After all, if the New York Times, Bon Appetit and Sky Magazine are willing to devote space to spirits, it must be all right to enjoy a glass before dinner.
In American Still Life, Pacult traces the roots of the Jim Beam Bourbon dynasty. Starting in the 1780s with Jacob Beam, the story is a true American dream: Immigrants with an Old World recipe and hopes for freedom land in America and find economic success. American Still Life goes into great detail to show the role that bourbon production played on the Kentucky frontier and how the drink survived Prohibition, the Great Depre-ssion, and a pair of world wars. Along the way the descendents of Jacob Beam proved that whiskey is almost as thick as blood.
When a family has been in the same business in the same geographic area for parts of four centuries, roots run extremely deep. Pacult shows how the Beam family has branches that influence most of the great bourbon houses, including Heaven Hill, Stizel-Weller, Early Times and many others. He rightfully says that the Beam family tree is a “towering American oak.”