Kevin Kosar might be the most thoughtful boozehound you’ll ever meet. A researcher for the Library of Congress with a PhD in political science, Kosar has for the last 12 years penned an insightful and informative blog called AlcoholReviews.com under the pen name F. Sot Fitzgerald. In his apartment near Washington National Cathedral, he “sips” and “nips” new liquors and wines in between tending to family responsibilities. Kosar is a husband and the father of two young children—both of them curious about Daddy’s collection of whiskey bottles. This fall, he published Whiskey: A Global History. We talked with Kosar about the cocktail revolution and the history of alcohol.
What would people be surprised to learn about the history of whiskey?
That the good old days of whiskey were not so good. Many whiskey PR campaigns paint an idyllic picture of olden times, when “pure whiskey” was “handcrafted” by earnest men who cared only about producing the finest-tasting whiskey. That’s mostly a myth. Whiskey today is better than it has ever been.
A lot of folks say gin is the most interesting spirit. So why not a book about gin?
I pondered a gin book. Gin is a terrific spirit, but whiskey is a bigger and more complex topic. For one thing, there are so many types of whiskey—bourbon, corn whiskey, Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky, rye. Each is its own thing with its own flavor and history.
Is the cocktail revolution just a fad?
It may well be. Fifty or 60 years ago, a cocktail culture cropped up. Homes across America had little drink carts with snazzy ice buckets, glassware, and the rest. Then poof! Now hipsters are buying up these old carts from secondhand stores. The economic boom of the ’90s encouraged it. With all that disposable income, spirits companies began churning out more specialized and high-end products and sold them through cocktails. If you want to move boysenberry liqueur, you don’t sell it; you sell the boysenberry martini.
Is a drink sometimes more than a drink? Is it also a social marker?
What a person drinks can serve as a tool for self-styling. When Hillary Clinton was running for President, she began conspicuously drinking bourbon. Her message was plain: “I’m tough and a regular American.” That said, I don’t think it is a good idea to become wedded to just one type of drink. A Manhattan doesn’t pair well with pizza.
This article appears in the December 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.
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