Author Richard Hacker: Guide to the Spirit World


Author Richard Carleton Hacker • By Everard Strong

Author Richard Carleton Hacker

Author Richard Carleton Hacker

Richard Carleton Hacker has been called “the most politically incorrect author in America.” An international writer and photographer specializing in spirits, wines, cigars, and related luxury lifestyles, the California resident recently released The Connoisseur’s Guide to Worldwide Spirits (Skyhorse). We sent Mr. Hacker a couple of questions about the spirit world.

How did the idea behind The Connoisseur’s Guide to Worldwide Spirits become a reality? Was it an idea you had or were you approached by Skyhorse?
The book was my own idea, because after almost three decades of writing about spirits I had way too much information to put into a single article. It would require a book, and I envisioned a book that would cover all the distilled spirits, not just Scotch or Bourbon, for example. There are already a number of those out. I wanted to write an all-encompassing book that would make the spirits-drinker a better-informed consumer, whether or not he or she drank some of the spirits covered in the book. In short, I wanted to write the kind of book I wish I had when I was just starting out. 

How long between writing the first word and handing in final copy?
It took about two years from start to finish. But prior to that, it took almost three decades of travel, interviews, photography, and related research to get to the point where I felt I had enough material to write such an all-encompassing book.

Does it need an update — have you tasted some new spirits that you’re thinking should have been in the book?
Right now, The Connoisseur’s Guide To Worldwide Spirits is the most up-to-date book of its kind. I even was able to include photos of Ireland’s new Slane distillery pot stills being installed (they are now up and running — or rather, distilling) and managed to slip in Steven Soderbergh’s new Singani 63 (you’ll find it in the vodka chapter, even though it isn’t a vodka, but that was the only place it would fit). However, there are new spirits coming out every week, so with a book that takes almost a year to print (writing aside), you can never have everything that’s out there. I guess that’s where blogs and other instantaneous posts — such as my New & Noteworthy pieces on — come into play. But with the book, I just tried to include worthwhile products that were representative of their categories. 

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You mention in the book that sniffing your hand helps reset your senses. How did you discover this unique technique, and does it work for beer too?
A distiller in Scotland taught me that trick many years ago. I tried it at my next spirits judging competition and it worked. I’ve since applied that same technique to wine and beer and yes, it works there as well.

What was the most expensive spirit you have tasted? Was it worth the price?
Throughout my career I’ve had the good fortune to taste a lot of rare and expensive spirits. But three that immediately come to mind are the Hardy L’Ete cognac ($15,900), The Last Drop 50 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky ($4,000), and a 70-year-old Glenlivet single malt whisky ($39,600). As to whether they were worth the price, that depends on whether or not you’ve got that kind of money to spare (I don’t — I was sent 30 ml samples) and are really serious about having something that few others possess. As for their tastes, they were all interesting and certainly gave me an “up close and personal” experience with the nuances of very old spirits.

There seems to be a revival or rediscovery of artisanal gins in the United States, and in California in particular — what is the attraction of gin?
Well, from a distiller’s standpoint, it doesn’t usually need aging (although some do).  But for the consumer, it is a fascinating spirit because of the various botanicals that are used.  Plus, it is a no-brainer to keep a bottle in the fridge and simply pour it into a martini glass with an olive or two.  The gin martini is not only historical, it is one of the easiest cocktails to make.

What do you see as happening next with American spirits - any trends to look for?
There’s a big push for American malt whiskies, but I’ve only found a few that have the body to stand up to some of the more established brands.  Part of the problem is that the smaller distillers can’t always afford to age their spirits for any great length of time, as that ties up inventory.  And yet, some of the small batch spirits have real character.  Rye is the next big thing. Plus, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more artisanal limited bottlings in the near future and some real artsy-craftsy gins.

What’s catching your taste buds here in Northern California? What distilleries are worth keeping an eye on?
I’m a big fan of the Sonoma County Distilling Company — I love everything they do, from their West Kentucky Bourbon No. 2 to their Black Truffle Rye. And Chocasmoke from Seven Stills in San Francisco is always a conversation starter. Of course, St. George and Craft Distillers jump started a lot of Northern California distilling. Whenever I’m in San Francisco, I always try to stop by my friend Charlie Palmer’s Burritt Room (located in San Francisco’s Mystic Hotel, #burrittroom), as they tend to stock a lot of Northern California spirits that I might not otherwise find.

Instead of having your Last Meal, you get to have your Last Drink. What will you have?
Well, it will most probably be one of the brown spirits, probably a bourbon or a rye. And if it’s going to be my last drink, it will have to be in a very large glass.

Find his books on Amazon.