Winter time is coming and the chill has begun to set in. Squirrelled away in a small south England cottage I’m enjoying the opportunity to make a fire in the evenings, pour a whisky and sit in the fireside chair, warming myself with external and internal heat (seriously, the Springbank Cask Strength is a great warming whisky).
More often than not I pick up a book and have a read, and working my way through my shelves of whisky books I’m always struck by those who ask what whisky books to read. There are different books for every occasion, filling all manner of genres and head spaces.
So what are the best whisky books to read? I thought taking the time to craft a list integral to understanding our favourite drink would be a fantastic way to pass some time, and maybe even let people know of a book they’ve never heard of before.
These are five amazing whisky books to have on your shelf.
Something that I’ve found lacking in the whisky community is education. Don’t get me wrong, some people are extremely educated in the process of whisky production. Others are well versed on whisky lore, or the certain specifics of certain distilleries, but as for a basic understanding of the foundation principles there seems to be a lack.
If you’ve just entered the industry or community by the way you shouldn’t feel bad about that. There is no pressure on you to know these things straight away, but when people ask basic questions there are always a few people who give snarky answers, belittling the newcomer who doesn’t have a huge understanding of the subject.
The best way to discover the basic and advanced knowledge can be found in The Science and Commerce of Whisky. Paul S Hughes seriously knows his stuff, and delves into the subject in a very clear manner that is easy to understand. He is backed in this by Ian Buxton, a fantastic writer who provides history and context. Paul S Hughes was also previously a Professor of Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University, and speaking with a few who have passed through the degree I’ve been told that the book is the next best thing. You might not hold a degree after reading the book, but you’ll know plenty and discover more to set the mind racing.
No, Alfred Barnards The Whisky Distilleries of The United Kingdom is not on this list. It is an extremely informative and interesting book, and it’s contribution to the history of whisky cannot be understated. The problem with the book lies in the fact that the book is often less read than it becomes a talking piece on a coffee table, shown rather than read. As a resource it is amazing, but it seems to be used less as a resource and more as a centrepiece.
What is rarely used as a centrepiece however is Misako Udo’s Scottish Whisky Distilleries. It is arguably the comprehensive book written on the technicalities of Scottish whisky distilleries, providing history, bottlings, technical details, the hidden information that you can’t find anywhere else.
Listing every Scottish distillery from the past to the books publication in 2005 it is a pure gold mine for information about Scottish distilleries and if you’re serious about Scotch whisky then it is something to track down. It’s here then that we have to mention the sulphur in the dram, the price. The book is the price of a decent bottle of whisky at £70, and turns sharply up from there, breaking the £200 mark in some cases. It is the most expensive book on the list? Yes, by a wide margin. Is it a book worth investing in? Most definitely.
No list could be complete with Ingvar Ronde yearly whisky book. If you don’t know, the Malt whisky yearbook began in 2005 and is published yearly. While it mainly looks at Scottish distilleries and whiskies, year by year it expands as the world of whisky does and includes information about distilleries from all over the world. And I do mean all over, the latter half of the book is filled with history and technical information regarding distilleries from Africa, Asia, Europe and further.
Also refreshing is seeing someone condense the news stories of the year, filter out the chaff and leave what’s important. Statistical information, information on whisky shops, websites and independent bottlers are also included, always up to date and thrilling to pour over, along with articles and information from many pillars from the industry.
Collecting all the editions can be quite difficult but grows to be a fun thing to search for, and to discuss with other whisky heads when you get to chatting. It’s somewhat refreshing that the chat can be less of ‘I have all whiskies from this distillery’ to ‘I have all the malt whisky yearbooks.’ Not that I do, but Imagine someone does.
If you want to follow and stay up to date with each year of whisky, The Malt Whisky Yearbook is the way to do it.
So far the books concerned have focused primarily on Scotland. Most whisky books tend to be about Scotland to be honest, which is fine but sometimes something a bit different is in order.
Fionnan O’Connors A Glass Apart tracks through the murky history of Irish Whiskey and brings up just the facts. The fact that Fionnan is a historian as well as a whiskey lover helps, and his way of speaking immerses you in the history behind Irish Whiskey. From the early years and the brief mentions of aqua vitae all the way to the present, Fionnan guides the reader through Irish Whiskey clearly and concisely, bringing in Irish history for context.
With this the story of distilleries joins the writing, and we can learn about the different distilleries of Ireland. While the book is primarily about Single Pot Still, the surrounding context that the author gives make the book a valuable resource for anyone looking to learn about Irish whiskey.
There were plenty of books to choose from when it came to number five. Anything by Dave Broom, Charles Maclean, Heather Greene or Dominic Roskrow would have worked fine, but as they work mainly with history and distilleries I thought something else was in order. Whisky is built on myths, legends and stories, and while knowing the cutting points of a certain distillery and what the workers have for lunch is interesting it doesn’t do justice to the stories that these people have.
Whisky, wit and wisdom does just that. It tells the small stories of whisky, the tiny jokes that pass between whisky folk. These stories come from people all through the industry on all sides of it from all times in history, making it, drinking it, banning it, selling it, writing about it and dying for it. Those are the chapter headings. And it does just what it says on the cover, delivering wit and wisdom about whisky that you can enjoy and laugh about with with your mates.
Whisky wit and wisdom might not teach you how to cut your whisky right, it might not teach you how to differentiate between styles. It wont tell you how to impress people at a tasting with a tiny factoid, but it will teach you to appreciate the stories that whisky is built on.
You’ll note there is a hyperlink to a page where you can buy each of these books. I’ve used results of those who have good prices, but by all means purchase from where you will, except Amazon. Support local everyone.
The books above barely scratch the surface of whisky. Could the list have been longer? Of course it could, but once I go to ten I could go to twenty, once to twenty to thirty, and on and on. Honestly there’s a book to be written about all the books in whisky.
These are simply the books that I’m enjoying at the moment. If you’re looking for more, why not explore some other whisky authors, such as;
All these, and so many more, pour their heart and souls into making the books that we know and love, and that will warm your heart and fill your mind during these cold times. Have a whisky with them too, that makes it all the more interesting.
This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery, brand, author or whisky book, and is entirely the words of the author Somewhiskybloke. Seriously, I’ve met some of these folk and pretty sure they don’t remember me. One day….
If you enjoyed reading this, why not give me a follow on Twitter at @Somewhiskybloke? There you can stay up to date with what I’m drinking and what news I’m ignoring while trapped in the wonderful whisky bubble.