For this article I thought I’d do something a little different and bring you a few books which have caught my eye recently. I’ve appended a suitable whisky review too, not to divert too far from the established format.
There are whisky related books of all shapes and sizes, many with lots of glossy photos and few words. Many of the most famous whisky folk have built their reputation on the books they publish, and one was almost cancelled for one, at the expense of their other quality writing. The publication of a book is usually the culmination of years honing ones craft as spirits journalist and writer for magazines and other publications, with personal or company blogs and websites, etc.
I have become more interested in whisky books since beginning whisky writing myself. There are fantastic reference tomes such as the Schweppes Guide by Phillip Morrice, or the unbelievably detailed “The Scottish Whisky Distilleries,” by Misako Udo which even seeks to catalogue the names of each distillery’s mouse catching cat. There are fantastically niche books such as those documenting the distilleries in Campbeltown alone, which I found very useful for my article on Springbank.
Throughout my reading I have found that many books have the same content cut and pasted across different formats. Errors are carried over between different authors, which makes one somewhat cautious of those publications claiming encyclopedic or biblical status. This year, I would like to bring to your attention a selection of great books I have picked up and enjoyed in the last 12 months or so.
The Philosophy of Whisky by Billy Abbott (£10)
The first book which I wanted to bring to Malt readers is the Philosophy of Whisky by Billy Abbott, 2021. Billy has long worked as a whisky writer, presenter, trainer, and spirit judge. He also writes for the whisky exchange amongst other roles. A good pedigree is always a great place to start with an author. Billy has been working hard for the last 12 months promoting the book; you may have spotted him at various whisky events whilst supporting generously with drams from his own collection.
“The Philosophy of Whisky” is published by the British Library, whose website confirms they only publish a hand-picked selection of quality books each year. One of the highlights of the book is its readability and relaxed approach to detail. I think it’s a really approachable book for budding whisky enthusiasts before they venture in the depths of geekdom. It’s a really handy introduction and one which considers all whisky around the world, not just Scotch. A quick read and a good one to dip in and out of. A compact size, dare I say a toilet book (in a good way). An excellent stocking filler.
The Rise and Fall of Pattisons Whisky of Leith by Jim Brown and Louis Rep (£15)
The next book was recommended by a Malt reader who had spotted a mention to the Pattisons of Leith in a previous article on a non-Springbank blend. The commenter’s name was given as Jim Brown. The book was “The Rise and Fall of Pattisons Whisky of Leith” by Jim Brown and Louis Rep, 2020.
This book is firmly aimed at the inquisitive and geeky who are looking to learn about some of the more niche historical details of the 1890s whisky boom and crash. The text is exceedingly relevant now, as we find ourselves at the absolute peak of a whisky boom, and are looking cautiously over the edge to determine if it is a plateau or precipice that comes next.
The Pattisons’ whisky empire will not be that well known, but Brown and Reps have poured their extensive personal archives into this book thus bringing to life the story. Rich with historic branding, original documentation, contemporary evidence, the writing to bring it together has a nice reportage style. The book takes readers through the rise of the brothers’ empire to the details of their trial for fraud. Of particular note is the quality of the publication, with thick, quality pages and rich vivid printing. The book sings “quality,” and would make a lovely gift for the whisky lover who has everything.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2023 edited by Ingvar Ronde (£15.95)
Whilst some annual publications become stale and repetitive with the passing years, one which goes above and beyond to remain relevant is the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2023 edited by Ingvar Ronde. Now in its 18th edition and claiming to be the “most updated whisky book on the market” it’s hard to even envisage any competitor. Most people who purchase a copy of this book find it so useful that they will replace with each new edition year on year. Since I picked up the 2023 copy it has become my go-to whisky book for quick fact checking.
You can spot whisky fans who do not have the Malt Whisky Yearbook’s latest edition as they will be passing off out of date information from when the visited distillery X in 2015 or distillery Y in 2018 as if it was gospel. It’s a must have for anyone thinking of starting a whisky argument to avoid being bettered. As for the content: each year there are some topical essays by top whisky writers along with concise and important details of more than 700 distilleries around the world. I used it to inform my recent article on Ardmore.
The Distilleries of Great Britain and Ireland by James Eadie Ltd (£150)
The book launch with the most fanfare this year was “The Distilleries of Great Britain and Ireland.” It is a collection of archived magazine articles published between 1922 and 1929. they have been compiled by Leon Kuebler of James Eadie Ltd with the assistance of an extensive team of experts.
Just 1,000 copies of this lavish first edition have been published and all are individually numbered. It is completely bamboozling that any of this initial release of books are still available to buy in this day and age of whisky hype; had this been 1,000 NAS Macallan bottles called “A Fart in a Lift in Scotland” they’d have sold out in 30 seconds. There are some fickle corners of the whisky-drinker community but, for the whisky-thinker, I thoroughly recommend a quick purchase whilst it remains in stock.
Rarely, in my experience does a book get launched at the same time as a tribute podcast arrives. But The Liquid Antiquarian – presented by Arthur Motley and Dave Broom – was quick to release a few episodes framing the importance of this new material. Ultimately the importance is due to the rarity of the historical material and contemporary photographs, which come from an otherwise quiet time in the record on whisky.
Some 30 years after the Pattison crash there was again a period of decline captured over the seven years of articles. You can read it cover to cover, however – having listened to the Liquid Antiquarian episodes – I now like to pour a dram from a particular distillery and take my time with the weighty tome, reading the article about it in the 1920s before perusing a few other reviews. One of the most enjoyable I have found is Glen Grant, in which the article author goes into great detail about the technological advancements and equipment, most of which remains in place today at the distillery. This is a book any whisky fan will treasure and revisit time and again.
A Sense of Place, A journey around Scotland’s Whisky by Dave Broom (£40
I’ve been a fan of Dave Broom’s essays for some time. A particularly interesting review of Glasgow’s rum trade and the links to slavery published on his website The Whisky Manual I thought particularly thoughtfully written, an article which inspired my own consideration of the links to slavery at Fettercairn Distillery. More recently, I have waxed lyrical about how much I enjoy The Liquid Antiquarian YouTube channel that Broom co-hosts. As you can imagine, I was particularly excited to see another book being published by the decorated spirits writer.
The premise of the book is a journey capturing the “sense of place,” a phrase that has bugged me since Nicholas Morgan trashed the idea of terroir in whisky only to suggest on the next line that “place” is inherently a component of whisky flavour. This concept of flavour and location is crucial to Broom’s book, but without the evisceration of other concepts. Personally, I believe a “sense of place” is more closely related to our irrational emotional connection to an alcoholic beverage. It’s the emotional connection that takes us from liking a flavour to having a lifelong obsession with a particular distillery and its locale.
The best of Dave’s book is all about the emotional connections with a place, the people, the makers, the history that makes a place what it is. This book would have been beautiful if it did not mention whisky at all… but as it is, it helps tap into the emotional connections to people like Phil and Simon Thompson doing things the hard way for the love of whisky, or the Orcadians whose deep cultural roots inspire the oft-mocked branding at Highland Park.
The stories collated and retold by Broom, and his interesting perspective, are brought to the book visually by photographer Christina Kernohan. The stunning photography is a highlight. As such, this is a book that can be enjoyed by whisky drinkers and non-drinkers alike, as it is primarily and ode to Scotland first and whisky afterwards.
As for a whisky to choose to review? A purchase of The Malt Whisky Distilleries of Scotland furnishes the owner with a voucher for £10 discount on a bottle of James Eadie whisky via the exclusive retailer for the book. I opted for Palo Cortado Caol Ila, as I had particularly enjoyed a similar bottle released last year. Let’s see if it holds up to the reputation.
James Eadie Coal Ila 11 Year Old – Review
First fill Palo Cortado hogshead finish for five months. 59.3% ABV. £72.95 (before discount).
On the nose: Peat smoke, sweet boiled sweets, hay smoke, an Arbroath Smokehouse, soy sauce, salted toffee, apricot jam, stroopwafel, pear and apple compote, more gentle peat smoke and crispy bladderwrack on a pebble beach.
In the mouth: Thick sweet stewed plum, salty crumble topping, gentle dry peat smoke. Salt water taffy, savoury heathery smoke, sweet warmed stroopwafel, and all much smoother and tastier with water, which brings more fruit.
Very well balanced between sweet, savory, peat and some fruit, it’s a joy in the mouth and all for a fair price.