99 DRAMS OF WHISKEY
The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink
BY – Kate Hopkins
PUBLISHER – St. Martin’s Press
COPYRIGHT – 2009
In honor of World Book Day, a bonus post this week!
In 1995, UNESCO declared April 23 to be World Book Day, paying tribute to books and their authors and encouraging the pleasures of reading. Though some countries now celebrate the day on different dates due to conflicts with other holidays or events, April 23 was originally chosen in memoriam to Miguel de Cervantes, Maurice Druon, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Vladimir Nabokov, and William Shakespeare—all famous authors who died on April 23.
So, of course, I chose to highlight a book on whiskey.
For someone like myself—on a whiskey journey and in perpetual learning mode—the prospect of a book by someone who decided to get to know whiskey by giving herself the task of writing a book about it sounded right up my alley.
Author Kate Hopkins once ran a well-read travel and commentary blog called The Accidental Hedonist. She’s also been a stand-up comedian and authored another book on questionable sustenance, Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy. Little current information seems to be available on Hopkins now. Her website has been discontinued, and her latest Tweet appears to be from 2018:
Hopkins writes with a digital pop-culture impresario’s knack for quips, and a comedian’s impulse to cut to the joke. This helps somewhat to keep the book’s passages of historical exposition personable. I’m someone who enjoys reading about history. Yet still those sections often feel dry, and I found myself eager for each historical account to wrap up so we could return to Hopkins’ travels with her side-kick and longtime friend, Krysta.
The inclusion of Krysta as a “character” in the book offers a pragmatic every-person as foil to Hopkins, herself cast in the role of romantic explorer of new worlds and adventurous archeologist of the past. As written, they are not an entertaining enough duo to grab and hold my attention so much as welcome it with a casually open hand.
Hopkins’ perspective throughout the book is refreshingly unpretentious and unapologetically in-process. She had set out to learn about the world and history of whiskey, and takes us for the ride along her learning curve. When the book was written in 2009—before the whiskey boom had fully boomed and the amount of information about whiskey available online had spiked exponentially—I imagine this was a more intriguing read. Just over a decade later, in 2020, Hopkins’ wide-eyed approach now feels dated. Many of her questions have long since been answered in multiple contexts and in more depth, both online and in print. Even for someone just starting their whiskey journey today, as Hopkins was then, it’s simply easier to start farther along than 2009 allowed Hopkins to do.
99 Drams of Whiskey is a fine way to pass a commute to and from work (Well, when one can commute again!) or a few weekend hours at a time. To that end I do recommend it. It is genuinely curious in its commentary. For more intriguing insight I’d recommend Robin Robinson’s The Complete Whiskey Course: A Comprehensive Tasting School in Ten Classes, or Susan Cheever’s Drinking In America: Our Secret History. These books have very different intentions than Hopkins’ book, of course. But they both render their respective historical accounts in ultimately more engaging ways. Even in her notes on specific whiskeys, Hopkins’ intent is unabashedly armchair and sticks to the most obvious and approachable mainstream:
I do suspect if Hopkins were to write the same book today, the deluge of information that’s come out around whiskey in the past decade—offering the average aficionado much more inside-scoop via a quick Google than was possible in 2009—might meld with her humor to result in a much more actively engaging travelogue. As it stands, 99 Drams of Whiskey is itself like an average whiskey: pleasant enough aroma up front, tastes perfectly fine in the moment, a short unmemorable finish, likely not to be reached for too often.