The Book

November 2020

  America has a wealth of literary talent. One of the most famous of America’s literary talents is Jack London. If the name rings a bell, but you can’t recall why, London is the author of White Fang and Call of the Wild. There seems to be phenomenon of the best American literary minds also suffering from an affliction with alcohol. John Barleycorn is somewhat of an autobiography for London. London considers it his memoirs of his life with alcohol.

  Jack London is widely known for his fiction novels. London was contracted for his novels, so it was hard to make extra money as his fiction was locked in at set rates. In writing a person memoir in John Barleycorn, London was able to beat his contract and sell his non-fiction memoir to whoever was willing to pay top-dollar for it.


  Throughout the book, London details his history with alcohol starting as a young boy. It’s important to note that London did not see himself as an alcoholic by the standards we use today. We tend to view alcoholics as those who are compelled to drink by addictive forces. London argues that he never felt compelled to drink by any physiological or biological force. London believes he was compelled to drink by society. Alcohol was everywhere. Alcohol was part of the culture of manhood. The people around him drank, so he had to drink to keep up with them. To be clear, London considered himself to be a heavy drinker, but not an alcoholic.  


The Dram

Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish is finished in Gosling’s Old Rum, a product of Bermuda. The Kentucky bourbon is 8 years old and finished for 15 months in Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum casks that previously held 16 year old rum. The bottle comes in at 90.2 proof.

On the palate, you’ll find a lot of sweet rum flavors, as you might expect. It has not fruity notes, perhaps a pear. There’s a bit of floral and maple.

  John Barleycorn is a historically significant work that was published in 1913, during the initial heavy push from the Temperance Movement to bring about national Prohibition. London’s belief was that he drank so much alcohol because it was readily available. London believed that heavy drinking was ingrained in culture because it was readily available everywhere. London admits to being a heavy drinker, but did not want to be a heavy drinker. Because of this reality, London supported women’s suffrage, with the belief that women would vote Prohibition into existence. London realized that as long as alcohol was readily available, he would continue to be a heavy drinker. He firmly believed that if Prohibition vanquished the availability of alcohol, he would then be safe from being a heavy drinker.

  The Temperance Movement was aware of London’s thinking and used John Barleycorn as Dry Temperance propaganda. It’s a bit of irony that Temperance forces used a biography written by an alcoholic who never fully intended to stop drinking and never did stop drinking. Nonetheless, Temperance forces such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party (political party) continued to use London’s absolute rock star status to push their Dry agenda.

  John Barleycorn will appeal to you if you are interested in American literary history greats. You will also enjoy it if you are intrigued by the decades-long Temperance movement that eventually culminated in Prohibition and the Volstead Act. Finally, if you are interested in American writers, there is a documented history of alcoholism, thus this book is an excellent look at this aspect of American literary culture.

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