'Barrels & Drams' in the spotlight

Dowd during interview. (TU photo by Paul Buckowski)
Dept. of Shameless Self-Promotion: I'm featured in a profile in the Albany (NY) Times Union today. Here's the start of the story.

TROY — It may have been William M. Dowd's destiny to compile this anthology of whiskey, "Barrels & Drams."

His heritage is Irish, with shots of Scottish and Welsh mixed in.

As a boy, he was allowed the occasional sip of moonshine from his grandfather's still in Pennsylvania.

He had his first legal drink on his 18th birthday at a tavern on Long Island. He did a double-take before accepting the offer of a drink -— he chose rye and ginger —- bought by a guy at the end of the bar that happened to be his girlfriend's father.

And today, at 69, the retired newspaperman settles back at happy hour with his go-to cocktail: a Manhattan, made with Jim Beam.

It has to be Jim Beam. Dowd has a deep affinity for the popular Kentucky bourbon.

"I didn't get along much with my stepfather, except over a bourbon. He always poured Jim Beam," Dowd recalled.

There is something deeply emotional about whiskey, which as Dowd explains, is the American and Irish spelling of the spirits they distill in Scotland, Canada, Japan and India and call whisky (without the "e").

Dowd also plumbs the conviviality to be discovered in the bottom of a whiskey glass, which he conveys in a quote from the great Irish novelist James Joyce: "The light music of whiskey falling into a glass -- an agreeable interlude."

Dowd has gathered a bunch of great quotes about spirits, including this from W.C. Fields: "I always carry a bottle of whiskey in case of snakebite. I also carry a small snake."

He's also put together a glossary of terms from the spirit trade, which has a colorful lexicon all its own. Pop quiz: What does "Angels' Share" in the distilling process mean? Answer: "The amount of whiskey lost through evaporation during the aging process."

With a "Drink Responsibly" disclaimer opening, the book's small batches of information and easy-to-read format make it the quintessential bathroom compendium.

But it also belongs in every tavern and home bar, within easy reach of a two-finger pour of Glenlivet. Which, of course, brings up a great quote from American distiller Frederick Booker Noe II: "A respectable amount of bourbon to pour into a glass is about two fingers' worth. Lucky for me, I have big fingers."

Dowd has studded the volume with fascinating trivia and delicious history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion in America, which rocked the young republic after the nation's first excise tax was placed on whiskey production.

He's also got a discerning palate when it comes to writerly talent and includes pieces by notable wordsmiths such as Tom Wolfe and Daniel Okrent, as well as whiskey authorities Malachy Magee and Charles K. Cowdery.

[Go here for the full story.]

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry. 
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry. 
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry. 
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