This Thing Now: "The Art of American Whiskey"

A spirited look at drinking culture from colonial days to the craft boom

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For nearly as long as there's been a United States of America, there's been American whiskey. And though it took a few more decades for the firewater to flow from barrels (with burned-in insignias) to individual containers, the labels on those bottles tell a fascinating tale of our country's love affair with this storied spirit.

Author Noah Rothbaum culled 100 iconic photos and labels of whiskey containers from colonial days through our modern-day small-batch boom to distill a fascinating portrait of drinking trends, portrayals of class, government-mandated morality and the nation's irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit in his new book, The Art of American Whiskey: A Visual History of the Nation's Most Storied Spirit, Through 100 Iconic Labels ($20). Plus, the often intricate illustrations and nontraditional bottle shapes are just incredibly cool to look at.

A Prohibition-era Walnut Hill Whiskey pint touts its 100-proof "medicinal use" (under the auspices of Uncle Sam, himself), while a swingin' 60s premixed Jim Beam Manhattan offers sophisticated no-fuss hosting for the modern bourbon lover. A 70s George Dickel "powder horn" bottle comes wrapped in a leather thong that no doubt got incorporated into a wardrobe or two, while a contemporary, bare-bones flask from Kings County Distillery belies the intensive, experimental craft of its contents.

And how better to swim through our country's tipsy history than with a glass in hand? Rothbaum shares period-appropriate recipes from star bartenders like Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich to enjoy alongside profiles of distilling legends, such as Bill and Margie Samuels of Maker's Mark fame and third-generation whiskey maker Julian Van Winkle.

Flip through, drink up and soak in a unique, visually delightful take on a distinctly American art form.