Every Ounce a Man’s Whiskey?: Bourbon in the White Masculine South

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Every Ounce a Man’s Whiskey?: Bourbon in the White Masculine South

by Seán S. McKeithan
Southern Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 1: Spring 2012

"The hot bite of the Bourbon sensuously connects the body of the drinker to nation, region, and locale, enjoining his experience with those of imagined, historical bodies, soaking up space and place in the slow burn of what appears an endless southern summertime."

In a 1975 essay bluntly and beautifully titled “Bourbon,” Walker Percy asserts that “The pleasure of knocking back Bourbon lies in the plane of the aesthetic but at an opposite pole from connoisseurship.” For Percy, it is Bourbon’s aesthetic condition rather than its chemical composition that makes the drink so distinctly appealing. “Knocking it back neat” serves a transportive function, immersing the Bourbon drinker in the rich cultural imagery of the American South: woody, sunny, and romantic. The hot bite of the Bourbon sensuously connects the body of the drinker to nation, region, and locale, enjoining his experience with those of imagined, historical bodies, soaking up space and place in the slow burn of what appears an endless southern summertime. For Percy, a southern doctor, author, philosopher, and social critic, Bourbon drinking serves as an existential, even religious, act which connects the drinker to an imagined history, an act which ultimately provides an “evocation of time and memory and of the recovery of self and the past from the fogged-in disoriented Western world.”