While some may wonder, “Does the world really need another flavored vodka?” no one answers this question quite so memorably as spirits writer and raconteur Jason Wilson does in Boozehound. (By the way, the short answer is no.) A unique blend of travelogue, spirits history, and recipe collection, Boozehound explores the origins of what we drink and the often surprising reasons behind our choices.
In lieu of odorless, colorless, tasteless spirits, Wilson champions Old World liquors with hard-to-define flavors—a bitter and complex Italian amari, or the ancient, aromatic herbs of Chartreuse, as well as distinctive New World offerings like lively Peruvian pisco. With an eye for adventure, Wilson seeks out visceral experiences at the source of production—visiting fields of spiky agave in Jalisco, entering the heavily and reverently-guarded Jägermeister herb room in Wolfenbüttel, and journeying to the French Alps to determine if mustachioed men in berets really handpick blossoms to make elderflower liqueur.
In addition, Boozehound offers more than fifty drink recipes, from three riffs on the Manhattan to cocktail-geek favorites like the Aviation and the Last Word. These recipes are presented alongside a host of opinionated essays that cherish the rare, uncover the obscure, dethrone the overrated, and unravel the mysteries of taste, trends, and terroir. Through his far-flung, intrepid traveling and tasting, Wilson shows us that perhaps nothing else as entwined with the history of human culture is quite as much fun as booze.
In his first book, Wilson, the spirits columnist for the Washington Post, has concocted an idiosyncratic exploration of the world of spirits. His primary ingredients include heavy doses of cocktail recipes, travelogues, history lessons, polemics against popular trends (flavored vodka is his primary target), all mixed together with a dash of autobiography. Wilson's bibulous quest takes him across Europe and the Americas, where he quaffs everything from Genever and Calvados to a ejo tequilas and a substance called "Peanut Lolita." As he drinks his way around the world, Wilson also examines the myriad ways in which alcohol has shaped culture and his own suburban New Jersey upbringing. Wilson sees the American obsession with flavored vodka as part of the long hangover from Prohibition. Yet he also discerns a growing American interest in more complex spirits, and he makes it his mission to introduce readers to the delights of arcane substances like Chartreuse and Tuaca. Wilson succeeds in his pose as an American everyman abroad; his gestures toward memoir and cultural analysis, however, tend toward the generic. Yet he has done his readers a real service: with cocktail recipes at the end of each chapter, Boozehound serves as a smooth personalized guide to classy mixology.