Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Our Top 10 - Whisky books & magazines

There has never been a better selection of books on the subject of whisky and whisky drinking.  This is due to the massive increase in popularity of the spirit and the number of people exploring the world of whisky for the first time. But much like buying a bottle of whisky, how do you choose the correct book from the plethora that now adorn the shelves of bookstores and online retailers? Below, we have picked our Top 10 current favourites ....


Canadian Whisky : The Portable Expert

Canadian whisky is growing in popularity hugely around the world and picking up major awards.   In this book Davin de Kergommeaux, a world authority on Canadian whisky, brings to life the industry and country that he loves.  The Portable Expert tells the story of the whisky industry in Canada and breaks down some of the myths that have built up about it.

The book is split in to five sections covering each of the elements that the whiskies are made from, how they are made, how to taste and get the most out of them, the history of Canadian whisky and profiles of the nine distilleries currently in production in the country.  There are also tasting notes from 100 of the best examples of the genre. If you don't know anything about Canadian whisky, then you certainly will by the end.  We are currently reading it and it is fascinating.

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 

This is an annual 'must have' release. Whisky writer Jim Murray has built up a worldwide following over the last ten years or so and now racks up sales of around 100,000 copies for each edition, making it the biggest selling whisky book.  Each year, Murray samples around 4,000 whiskies and the book is basically his tasting notes and comments about each one.  He also uses his own points system to score each whisky out of 100.

Murray is highly influential within the whisky industry and consumers take note of what he says and the scores given.  With each edition his 'Whisky of the Year' will see a huge spike in sales and interest to the point that it invariably sells out.  There are other features within the book, such as a round up of what is happening in the industry with Murray's often controversial take on them.  However, the wall to wall tasting notes of a vast array of whiskies could make it a little daunting for a beginner.

Malt Whisky Yearbook

This annual release from Ingvar Ronde is a 'must buy' for any whisky lover, but we think that it is particularly good for beginners.  It helped us greatly when we were starting out, and continues to do so.  The book covers most aspects of the whisky industry - what has happened in the last year, hot topics, stats and figures, good shops and websites - but it also 'gets under the skin' of the industry with interesting interviews with distillery managers, brand ambassadors and other people working with whisky.

However the best part of the book is the distillery section - this is invaluable and gives a historical timeline for each Scottish distillery, as well as a summary of what has happened or is happening there and tasting notes for their entry level whisky.  This section has been expanded greatly to now include many of the new distilleries around the globe.  Oh, and we feature in it ...

Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion

The Malt Whisky Companion series was written by influential whisky writer and commentator Michael Jackson until his death in 2007 from Parkinson's Disease.  This 6th and final edition is different as Jackson had been working on it up until he died and was completed by three of his closest contemporaries - Dominic Roskrow, Gavin D. Smith and William C. Meyers.  The book concentrates on single malts.

In terms of style, it sits somewhere between the Whisky Bible and Malt Whisky Yearbook, featuring basic information about distilleries in Scotland and beyond plus a selection of tasting notes of different expressions from each distillery.  These tasting notes total over 1,000.  It also features some background to whisky including helpful chapters on the origins of whisky, wording used on labels and the effects of age and wood on whisky.  Another excellent choice for a beginner or keen enthusiast.

Raw Spirit - In Search of the Perfect Dram 

This book is a bit different to the others.  Rather than analysing, describing or teaching about whisky it is the story of one man's search for his perfect dram of whisky.  That man is international best selling author Iain Banks, who as a native Scot and whisky lover set out on a journey around the distilleries of Scotland to discover what makes the whisky industry tick and the heritage behind the nation's famous drink.

Raw Spirit is the result and explores the background behind how Banks fell in love with whisky, before moving on to the numerous stories, encounters and great whiskies that he found on his travels around Scotland.  His tour also bring to life the landscape, transport, heritage and history that he discovers along the way.  A very entertaining read that is the perfect book to give you your 'whisky fix' when you are sitting by the pool or on the beach on holiday.

The Science & Commerce of Whisky

Another book with a difference that we have recently discovered.  Most general books about whisky tend to cover how it is made and the ingredients, but this book takes this to a significantly higher level and as a result fills a previously unfilled gap in the market.  The microscopic detail covered is fascinating and should satisfy even the most serious of whisky geeks. 

The book is written by Ian Buxton and Paul S. Hughes.  All aspects of whisky production and maturation are covered to a scientific level and this is complimented by sections on marketing, packaging, consumer trends, brand history and development.  If you need to know anymore than is offered in this book, then you should be working at a distillery ...


Whiskeria is a free quarterly magazine produced by The Whisky Shop, the UK's largest whisky retail chain.  There is simply no such quality publication produced by a retailer that we know of.  The magazine brings whisky to the masses, much like the ethos of the chain itself, and has an impressive circulation of 300,000 per edition.  Whiskeria can be found at any of the chain's 22 UK stores and selected other retailers, or be delivered to you door as part of the W Club, a members club for The Whisky Shop customers.

The magazine features a host of well known whisky writers and includes regular sections on new and forthcoming releases (including The Whisky Shop exclusives), customer favourites with tasting notes, distillery/brand profiles and store locations.  There are also facts and figures about the whisky world, plus jargon busting explanations dotted throughout.

Whisky Advocate 

The Whisky Advocate is America's leading specialist whisky magazine and has been in publication for over 20 years.  It is widely regarded by consumers, trade and press as one of the best sources anywhere for whisky information, education, new releases, industry trends, breaking news and tasting notes (this particular section is extensive and generally features at least 80+ reviews in each edition).  Articles are written by a collection of the best whisky writers from around the world.  Whisky Advocate also sponsors WhiskyFest, a combined series of whisky shows that make it the largest such event in the USA.

Whisky Magazine

The Whisky Magazine is a UK based publication produced by Paragraph Publishing.  The magazine has eight editions a year and covers all aspects of whisky and the whisky industry, written by an array of the leading authorities on the subject.  It is widely distributed and is available in bookstores, newsagents and other selected retailers worldwide.  The Whisky Magazine was the first ever publication that we purchased when our interest in whisky was starting, and remains a market leader in the specialist drinks press. Paragraph Publishing are also the organisers of the Whisky Live shows around the globe.

101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die

There seems to be lots of 'do this or that before you die' drinks books, but arguably the best is this one by whisky writer Ian Buxton.  It is the follow up to his 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die from 2012.  That book focused mainly on Scottish whiskies with a few from elsewhere.  Here Buxton casts his eye (and taste buds) over the best examples being produced by the ever growing number of distilleries across the globe.

Now there are a great number of products that challenge the tradition whisky powerhouses of Ireland, Japan, Scotland and the USA. There are still some examples from each of these countries, but the main focus is on up and coming countries such as Australia, England, Finland, India, Sweden and Taiwan amongst others. His proviso is simple - the whiskies must be readily available in specialist or online retailers, and they must be affordable.


Some people like Top 10s, some don't. They are always subjective and therefore potentially contentious as a result.  Everyone has differing opinions at the end of the day.  Are there any other books or magazines that you feel should be in our Top 10?  Let us know in the comments below - we look forward to hearing about them ...


Dave said...

Whisky Advocate is starting to become a mixed bag for me. Publisher Marvin Shankin is is turning this mag into a cousin of Cigar Aficionado. By that I mean, you better be interested in articles about luxury cars, expensive watches and golf.

I see this magazine going in a different direction than I would like.

Scotch Cyclist said...

Surprised to see that you guys haven't included any of Dave Broom's books. The 'World Atlas of Whisky' (which is far more informative than either the 'Malt Whisky Companion' and certainly the 'Whisky Bible', not to mention beautifully-written) and the new 'Whisky: the Manual' ought both to be in the top 10.
Broom's focus is always innovative (tracing the line from new make to maturity in 'Atlas', emphasising mixability in the 'Manual'). He successfully explores whisky's vibrant present and points towards its creative future, which I feel some of the other tasting note-athons you've listed refuse to acknowledge.
Get Dave on the list!
P.S. I agree with you on 'Malt Whisky Yearbook' - I've bought it for the last six years and it's fantastic.

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