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Reid Mitenbuler

Reid Mitenbuler

Drinking in History Columnist

Reid Mitenbuler is a Washington, DC-based writer. He is currently writing a book about bourbon for Viking/Penguin. Find him online at The Bourbon Empire and on Twitter @ReidMitenbuler.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Favorite foods: soft cheeses, hard liquors, hot sauces, cold pizza
  • Last bite on earth: A mix of fiery hot and jalapeño Cheetos -- if it's my last bite, I really don't care what anyone thinks about it.

When Bars Were More Than Just Bars

In colonial America, a general lack of infrastructure meant the tavern had to pinch hit in various other social functions, whether of church or state. They sometimes doubled up as courthouses (and even jails) and other times served as local theaters. More

Drinking George Washington's Whiskey

The biggest question on my mind before a recent trip to the Mt. Vernon distillery: "Did George Washington's wooden teeth add a little bit of extra aging to whatever whiskey he drank?" I quickly learned that the wooden teeth thing is a myth. One set of his false teeth was composed of a cow's tooth, one of Washington's own teeth, and hippopotamus ivory, making his mouth a Noah's Ark of dental wizardry. More

The Rise and Fall of America's Beer Gardens

The rise of beer gardens in America coincided with the opulent economic advances of the Gilded Age, and their style reflected that. The gardens built by brewing giants such as Frederick Pabst and Frederick Miller to promote their brands were the exact opposite of the dive bars where their brews are popular today. Schlitz Garden, built in 1879 by the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee, featured a concert hall, dance pavilion, bowling alley, and a three-story pagoda that provided stunning views of the city. More

Prohibition and Wine's Darkest Hour

When you think of illicit substances that are shipped in brick form, wine probably doesn't come to mind first. And no, boxed wine doesn't count. During Prohibition, however, drinkers got around laws that banned alcohol by dissolving bricks of grape concentrate in water and fermenting them into wine. More

What Are They Drinking on Mad Men?

What are the characters on Mad Men drinking? The short answer: everything, all the time. They also drink so much it's a surprise the alcohol vapors don't explode every time they light up their Lucky Strikes. But the specific drinks that the characters on Mad Men drink show us a period in American history when the drinkscape uniquely reflected the cultural forces that created it. More

How Budweiser Became the King of Beers

Calling Budweiser the "King of Beers" is a good way to get beer geeks to roll their eyes. A lot of beer connoisseurs mainly think of Budweiser as a thin-tasting symbol of corporate hegemony—it's the beer version of a Big Mac. But regardless, Budweiser's success has always been a story of savvy marketing; less known is that it's also a story of ingenuity and invention. More

The Whiskey That Won the Wild West

Despite all the old-fashioned images that adorn today's American whiskey bottles—log cabins, buffalo, and long-dead distillers who look like Civil War generals—most of today's famous brands wouldn't taste very familiar to cowboys from the Wild West. And vice versa: whiskey drinkers today likely wouldn't recognize frontier whiskey. And that's a good thing, because it probably tasted horrible. More

How To Drink Like H.L. Mencken

Any book that's been written about drinking in the last 50 years probably has a quote from H.L. Mencken, the American writer and cultural critic. The "Bard of Baltimore" had so much to say about drinking that ignoring him would be like forgetting to mention Confucius in a book about Chinese philosophy or overlooking Daryl Hall in a book about musical duo Hall & Oates. Yes, he's really that important. His essay "How to Drink Like a Gentleman," is recently back in print as an e-book. More

How Will Maker's Drinkers Really Respond to Watered-Down Bourbon?

Judging by the storm of protest surrounding the recent decision by Maker's Mark to water down its bourbon, you'd think the brand is diluting its product with the blood of baby panda bears. Twitter has been all a-twitter with angry bourbon fans reacting to Maker's decision to decrease the proof of its signature brand by three percent in order to increase supply and meet crushing demand. I was even asked by one bartender what America is coming to. More

Maker's Marketing: How Bourbon Came Back Into Style

Maker's Mark became one of the most recognizable names in bourbon by following a path most people would assume could only lead to disaster. Step 1: Create an unknown brand in a crumbling industry. Step 2: Charge a lot for your product. Step 3: Advertise that you charge a lot. Step 4: Fail to make much money for over two decades. It sounds like a strange path for the Samuels family, who started the distillery, but along the way, Maker's helped resurrect bourbon from the dead. More

What Did Wine Taste Like Thousands of Years Ago?

These are fantastic comments and all quite astute. They also represent the perils of boiling down thousands of years of history into a tight space, and the book reviewed addresses all of them in much more detail. The differing rates in the development of wine between different regions over time do involve some distinctions knowledgable wine folks are sure to recognize. The hope here was that listing some generalized trends would grab the interest of readers hoping to learn a little more and point them towards a great read.

Some of these trends varied across time and place...unsafe drinking water was definitely a problem, but certainly not everywhere all the time; as readers noticed, the timelines of beer and wine twist around each other depending on the region/era; and yes, the Greco-Romans differentiated between regions and terroirs, but not always for the same reasons we do today. One of the main points of the book was that wine's history really doesn't travel along the continuum that many other histories of wine describe. It's role, from social and culinary perspectives, has evolved in some very surprising ways. These comments do a wonderful job of raising distinctions readers can learn more about from Lukacs' book.

How to Determine Your Home-Coffee Budget

As somebody who nerds out on coffee in the morning with tons of Hario equipment and electronic thermometers and cloth filters, I totally dig this column.

Here's an article idea: Pavoni Manual espresso machines. I have one, but fail at it 80 percent of the time. The thing's a beast, and I need help.

Drinking Downton Abbey: The Drinks in Britain's Most Popular Drama

You're right, dorek, cocktails were around far before the period we're talking about here, and many of the classics were around in some form or another. That sentence was simply referring to cocktails' ability to mask the taste of bad liquor. I recently got to try some Prohibition-era whiskey from the 1920s -- it supposedly was "the good stuff," but the flavors that stood out most to me were prune juice and celery. No wonder you'd want to mix it with something else.

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