Big Shots: The Men Behind the Booze

Review By: Valerie Schirmer

When the latest book I was to review showed up on my doorstep, I must admit that I was a bit wary at first. While the cover and shape of the book looked pretty interesting, and the shot glass on the front looked real enough to pluck right off and drink, I was afraid it was going to be one of those textbook, just-the-facts-ma'am kind of books that pretty much bores you to tears.

But, A.J. Baime's Big Shots: The Men Behind the Booze gave me one heckuva surprise.

Yes, it is chock full of facts - much as you'd expect, considering it tells you it will contain The Real-Life Stories of Jack Daniel, Captain Morgan, Jim Beam, and many more. However, Baime managed to give the writing a fun, witty slant that made me not only want to keep turning the pages until I hit the very last word, but also left me (pardon the pun) thirsting for more.

It could be because Baime is Playboy's articles editor. Or, perhaps it's because it seems as if he did a lot of research. Maybe it's both. Either way, he managed to create a book that not only tells you all about the drinks you love and the people and processes behind them, but also a book that makes you want to read it again and again and then pass it on to your friends.

Big Shots offers readers a Bar Menu, meaning that he so nicely broke the book down into parts - each featuring a different type of liquor.

First up to the plate is the author's note on the text he has written. He tells you straight off what will be inside, what won't, and why.

Next comes the Introduction. If you were wary (like me!) to start reading this book, Baime's introduction does a great job of giving you a sneak peek of his writing style and dispelling your fears. While you think he's starting off by offering a boring, cut and dry synopsis of the discovery of alcohol, he manages to surprise you by taking the facts, adding in his own brand of humor, and coming up with a scenario that couldn't possibly be true, but is pretty darned funny. Most of what he's written is fact-based, but you'll just have to read it yourself to see what I mean.

Part I is Whiskey Men. In its three chapters you'll learn all about Jim Beam, Seagram's, and Jack Daniels.

Then comes Part II, which is dedicated to Martini Men. Smirnoff, Beefeater, and Martini & Rossi are discussed in this section.

Part III gives you a look at the South of the Border drinks you know and love - Captain Morgan, Jose Cuervo, and Bacardi.

Part IV offers up info on The Scots and Irish. Here you'll learn all there is to know about Bailey's and Johnnie Walker.

Hennessy and Dom Perignon make up the Top Shelf section in Part V.

Just when you think there couldn't possibly be any more to discuss, Baime has more up his sleeve with Part VI, which is appropriately named Last Call! While there won't be quite as much information for each liquor listed in this section, he gives you a nice meaty paragraph for each. Here you'll find some good info on liquors such as Tanqueray, Jameson, Sauza, Chivas, Campari, Dewar's, and Cabo Wabo.

Big Shots doesn't just give you the background of the people behind some of your favorite liquor and then call it a day. The book also features photos, recipes, fun facts, guides, examples, and so much more.

So, without giving anything away (because I really, REALLY think you should read this book), I will offer you some breadcrumbs that will hopefully lead you straight to your local bookstore or favorite online retailer.

Here are some things you will learn in this book:

  • Did Booker Noe, Jim Beam's grandson, unwittingly kill his grandfather with his Christmas gift of freshly shot quail?
  • How did the Bronfmans manage to create Seagram's popularity, only see a good chunk of their fortune "evaporate into thin air" several years later?
  • Was Jack Daniels really just 9-years-old when he started created whiskey?
  • How did Smirnoff become the popular vodka brand we know and love today?
  • Was gin really the crack cocaine of its time?
  • How did Beefeater get its name and can the guy on the front of the bottle really be compared to the meaty bouncers you see working the doors of today's bars and clubs?
  • What exactly is vermouth?
  • Who the heck is Captain Morgan and why does he have a rum brand named after him?
  • How many Jose Cuervos does it take to make a really great tequila?
  • Are tequila and mescal the same drink or vastly different?
  • Was the CEO of Bacardi really involved in an assassination plot?
  • Who are R & A Bailey? Do they really exist?
  • Did Johnnie Walker really start with a 15-year-old and a store that resembled today's 7-Eleven?
  • Were Richard Hennessy and Tupac Shakur really friends?
  • How did a blind monk create such a tasty bubbly?

If you have 12 or so extra bucks burning a hole in your pocket and you have a thirst (there I go with those puns again!) for a little liquor knowledge, then you definitely have to check out Big Shots: The Men Behind the Booze. Just be prepared for those around you to ask why you're smiling while you read.