Reviews of just a few of our current favourite whisky reads.
Title: Whisky: a brief history
The latest book from our Contributing Editor Gavin D Smith is a terrific little volume, cram-packed with statistics, facts, information and anecdote that entertains on every page.
It's one of those lovely little books that you can dip in and out of endlessly, and would be the ideal resource for anyone putting togther a whisky quiz! Fully illustrated, chapters include Making Whisky
Legally and Making Whisky Illegally, as well as chapters on Whiskies of the World, Whisky Characters and more. This really is a delightful little book that's as pithy as it is fascinating.
Author: Gavin D Smith
Price: £5.99 (buy at Amazon - 25%)
Title: Great Brand Stories
The press release which accompanied Stuart Delves' new book Great Brand Stories: Scotch Whisky caused concern when it proclaimed that “In this book Stuart Delves looks at Scotch as an uber-brand…” It goes on to mention “…brand essence…” and …”positioning statements.” After all, there is only so much 'marketing-speak' that most of us can take before switching off and pouring a dram of the product itself.
However, Delves' book turns out to be a most pleasant surprise. It is quirky, pleasingly personal and is clearly written by a man who can write well. Delves is a 'creative copywriter' who has numbered many leading Scottish distillers among his clients, and he has an obvious passion for whisky and its heritage, not seeing it as just another commodity to shift off the shelves and through the optics.
In Great Brand Stories Delves explores the history of Scotch whisky and its development into one of the world's greatest and most globally-recognised drinks. Most importantly, he explores with a sense of poetry and a keen eye for humour.
Author: Stuart Delves
Publisher: Cyan Books
Price: £8.99 (buy at Amazon - 25%)
Title: Water of Life
More strain for the bookshelves in the shape of C Anne Wilson's substantial tome Water of Life. Subtitled a History of Wine-Distilling and Spirits 500BC to AD2000, this may sound rather like a Mastermind special subject, but is actually a fascinating and absorbing read for the serious-minded imbiber. According to the cover blurb, “The compelling narrative of wine-distilling is at once romantic, intriguing and unlikely, appearing more the stuff of historical romance than banal reality.” All that, plus footnotes! While the first half of Water of Life focuses on the earlier history of the subject, the rest of the volume is largely dedicated to the British experience of spirit manufacture and consumption from Tudor times to the present day. This is not the lightest of reads, and at £30.00 is unlikely to be an impulse purchase, but it is
warmly recommended for anyone with a thirst for in depth knowledge about the heritage of drink and drinking. Prospect Books. Distributed by Central Books, tel: + 44 (0) 20 8986 4854 for orders or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: C Anne Wilson
Publisher: Prospect Books
Price: £30.00 (buy at Amazon - 35%)
Title: Whisky Tales
Whisky Tales is the latest book from Charlie MacLean, and is, essentially, an expanded edition of his 2005 volume Whisky Miscellany. Nonetheless, this title is undoubtedly worth adding to your library, even if
you purchased its predecessor. In addition to the existing essays on such diverse aspects of the subject as worm tubs and whisky's connection with royalty, MacLean has now included new chapters on
elements of the whisky production process, along with a fascinating and illuminating piece on 'The Strange Story of Welsh Whisky.' The book also boasts 20 colour plates and many black and white
drawings and engravings. As the publishers say, “...perfect weekend reading for all lovers of a dram or two, a book that should be consumed at leisure, in appreciative sips.” Warmly recommended.
Author: Charles Maclean
Publisher: Little Books
Price: £12.99 (buy at Amazon - 35%)
Title: Malt Whisky Yearbook
The Swedes have long been great aficionados of Scotch whisky, and this month we review two books that are the work of Swedish whisky devotees. Ingvar Ronde has edited the 2007 edition of The Malt
Whisky Yearbook, and again this is a triumph of good and imaginative writing, photography and design. Feature contributors include Ian Buxton, Charlie MacLean, Dominic Roskrow, Taylor Smisson,
Gavin D Smith, David Stirk, Ian Wisniewski and Hideo Yamaoka. Between them these writers tackle subjects as diverse as emerging whisky markets, whisky maturation, whisky marketing, Japanese
malts and Scotch grain whiskies. These features provide a textual backbone to supplement the updated A-Z of malt whisky distilleries, new bottlings and numerous sections of invaluable statistics and
general whisky information. The Malt Whisky Yearbook is an essential companion for anyone interested in the subject. Once again, it is very competitively
priced, and if I have a criticism it is simply why didn't anyone think of doing this years ago? Thank you Ingvar!
Author: Ingvar Ronde
Price: £12.95 (buy at Amazon - 5%)
Title: Rare Malts
Swedish scientist and whisky fanatic Ulf Buxrud has written the definitive guide to Diageo's Rare Malts. Rare Malts, Facts, Figures and Taste documents the information and statistics relating to a fascinating piece of whisky history. According to its author, "It is also an attempt to mirror the arduous work and joy surrounding the rise of cottage trade that became an industry." Buxrud's infatuation with whisky began at the European Club in Abadan, Persia, when he was 15 years old, and his first dram was the Black & White blend. He subsequently became a passionate devotee of The Macallan, and now has a magnificent collection of whiskies and whisky-related literature at his home in Malmoe. His new book portrays all the distilleries involved in the compilation of the Rare Malts Selection series; a collection of outstanding
examples of the makes of thirty-six distilleries. Each portrait contains histories and technical data, some never previously published. The portraits include flavour profiles, tasting notes and comments, while a
special segment deals with tasting methodology and another gives a deeper insight into whisky nomenclature. In addition, the full story of the Rare Malts Selection series is told in detail. Undoubtedly
one for the specialists, but a beautifully produced volume, and a handsome addition to any whisky library.
Author: Ulf Buxrud
Publisher: Quiller Press
Price: £30.00 (buy at Amazon - 35%)
It is always satisfying to see reprints of neglected classics becoming available once again, and no whisky title has deserved reprinting more than Aeneas MacDonald's 1930 volume, Whisky.
One of the first whisky books to be aimed at the drinker rather than a specialist trade audience, this is a witty, elegantly-written and truly polemical tome, which delights and informs as much today as it did three-quarters of a
MacDonald tackles 'The Nature of Whisky,' 'History,' Making and Blending,' 'Geography,' and 'Judging, Purchase, and Care,' and the book is worth having for the ingenious rhymed distillery guide on pages 110-115 alone.
This Canongate facsimile reprint owes much to the work of Ian Buxton, who has augmented it with an illuminating introduction that reveals the real writer behind the 'Aeneas MacDonald' pseudonym.
Our only regret is that Whisky does not retail at five shillings, as the facsimile fly leaf might have us believe. Nonetheless, it is worth every penny, and for your money you even get a foreword by Charlie MacLean.
An essential addition to every whisky library.
Author: Aeneas MacDonald
Price: £9.99 (buy at Amazon - 30%)
Title: Enjoying Malt Whisky
By day Pär Caldenby is a lawyer in Gothenburg, but much of his spare time is devoted to a 15-year-long fascination with whisky. This fascination has resulted in the publication of The Enthusiast's Course on Enjoying Malt Whisky.
Do we really need yet another book devoted to distillery listings and tasting notes? Well, in the case of Caldenby's volume the answer is 'yes,' because he manages to combine genuinely informative tasting opinions and
related 'scores' with a great deal of interesting information regarding almost every aspect of malt whisky. He is also refreshingly unafraid to express opinions. Copies are available directly from Pär Caldenby at
Author: Pär Caldenby
Publisher: Cyan Books
Title: 26 Malts Some Joy Ride
26 Malts Some Joy Ride is an esoteric collaborative venture amongst 52 paired writers and designers, each of whom describes their part in creating a series of ground-breaking labels for the Scotch
Malt Whisky Society. Their brief was to sample unidentified cask strength whiskies then design unique labels based on sensory response. The book is fascinating and highly entertaining. Ideal to dip into over a dram or two.
Editor: Jamie Jauncey
Publisher: Cyan Books
Price: £15.00 (buy at Amazon)
Whisky - The Definitive World Guide
The Definitive World Guide is very much a 'coffee table' tome, beautifully produced and illustrated. However, to pigeon-hole it as a coffee table book is to do Jackson's latest opus a major disservice.
For above all, this is a very practical book and should be an essential accompaniment on all expeditions in search of distilleries. Each whisky-producing country is featured, with comprehensive distillery details and tasting notes.
Even Pakistan, Thailand, Switzerland and the Czech Republic rate references.
Whisky - The Definitive World Guide has the virtue of telling you pretty much everything you need to know about whisky/whiskey distilling wherever it takes place around the globe, and you can't say much fairer than that.
Editor: Michael Jackson
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Price: £25.00 (buy at Amazon - 30%)<
The Scotch Whisky Directory
If Michael Jackson's characteristically well-written volume is a reference book of sorts, then Pip Hills' The Scotch Whisky Directory could be described as much more of a 'pure' reference book for the drinker who takes his whisky very seriously. It is presented in the form of an A-Z of all the most significant Scotch whisky brands, with the flavour characteristics of each presented on a bar graph.
Tastings for the Directory were undertaken by four of the most distinguished 'noses' in the business, namely David Stewart of William Grant & Sons, Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay, David Robertson of the Easy Drinking Whisky Company and Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich.
Author: Philip Hills
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing
Price: £15.99 (buy at Amazon - 30%)
Whisky - A Double Scotch
If you are more in the mood for storytelling than clinical analysis, then US writer Paul Pacult's latest offering tells the tale of two of the most historically significant men to be involved in the Scotch whisky industry, namely
George Smith of Glenlivet fame and James Chivas. In A Double Scotch (subtitled How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons), Pacult presents a lively and faultlessly researched exploration of how two
men from north-east Scottish farming families founded what today are two arguably of the most iconic Scotch whisky brands in the world. An illuminating and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Author: Paul Pacult
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Price: £16.99 (buy at Amazon - 30%)
The Distilleries of Campbeltown
Independent whisky bottler and former Springbank employee David Stirk has written the first comprehensive book about the one time whisky capital of Scotland.
In The Distilleries of Campbeltown, Stirk charts the rise of the little town on the remote Kintyre peninsula from its early 17th century origins to its Victorian whisky-producing peak when 21 distilleries were operating in the mid-1880s.
Campbeltown's fall was dramatic when it came, with no fewer than 17 distilleries closing between 1920 and 1935. Stirk explores the varied reasons behind 'Whisky City's' decline into niche status, not least its inaccessibility by road, the questionable quality of some of its spirit, and the increasing desire from blenders for lighter, less assertive malts.
Yet Cambeltown has managed to survive as a whisky region, albeit one too often ignored by whisky writers in recent years. The opening in 2004 of Glengyle boosted the town's distilling strength to three, and Campbeltown's whisky-related future seems secure.
Stirk's book makes extensive use of correspondence and extracts from the Campbeltown Courier newspaper, and boasts a fascinating series of photographs, old and new. Read it, wherever you are, but best of all take a copy along with you to the Mull of Kintyre and explore Campbeltown's fascinating distilling heritage for yourself.
Author: David Stirk
Publisher: The Angel's Share
Price: £15.00 (buy at Amazon - 30%)
A Teacher's Tale
One for the dedicated connoisseur is Helen Arthur's A Teacher's Tale, subtitled 175 Years of Scotch whisky through the eyes of Wm Teacher & Sons.
The Teacher dynasty was established in 1830, and Arthur's book begins with the birth of William Teacher in 5th June 1811, comprehensively covering the intervening years to 2005. Teacher's lost its independence to Allied Brewers in 1976, and the book closes with another major upheaval for the brand, involving the sale of parent company Allied Domecq to Pernod Ricard and Fortune Brands in 2005.
A Teacher's Tale is lavishly illustrated with photographs and many adverts from the company archives. This, and a restricted print run, explains why it is not a cheap book. However, if whisky history is your thing, this should
definitely be on your bookshelves.
Author: Helen Arthur
Publisher: Allied Domenq
Price: £25.00 (buy at Amazon)
For those really dedicated whisky folk who favour rigorous analysis of their drams, David Wishart's Whisky Classified book has proved invaluable, and a second, fully updated edition has been published this year.
Wishart disregards the conventional classification of malt whiskies by geographical region on the perfectly reasonable basis that "not all Islay malts taste like a classic, smoky Islay [and] some Speysiders are light and delicate, whereas others are rich and fruity."
Instead, he groups whiskies according to their flavour profiles, noting "If you like a particular malt whisky, then we tell you what other brands taste similar - or, if you want to plan your malt whisky collection systematically, we show you the full flavour range of single malt Scotch whiskies."
Author: David Wishart
Publisher: Pavillion Books
Price: £14.99 (buy at Amazon - 30%)