Thursday, July 23, 2020

Our Top 10 Whisky Books

There are literally hundreds, possibly even thousands, of books on the subject of whisky out there. These cover all facets of the industry from how the spirit is made and the history of distilleries to 'must try' bottles and how to use whisky in cocktails. Some are written by well-known whisky or spirits writers, others by bartenders or those interested in the subject. There really is a whisky book for everyone.

Any Top 10 selection is subjective of course and everyone will pick a different line-up as their choice. It is the same for any Top 10 for any subject. Therefore you may not agree with our choices or have some in your own personal line-up and some not. We would love to hear what your favourite books are, so please feel free to comment against this post or on the YouTube video.

This selection is simply our favourite 10 books about whisky that we happen to own. There are many more we could have chosen but this is our snapshot. Some are historical and iconic, some contemporary and just released. We could not decide on positional places for each book included, so have simple listed them in alphabetical order.


Chasing The Dram
Rachel McCormack

It is difficult to believe that this fabulous book is Rachel McCormack's first. The whisky fan and food journalist decided to tackle the subject Scotch whisky in a different way and travelled around her native Scotland to learn about the spirit, its history and the myths that surround it. She is not the first to do that of course, but what her journey evolved in to was a travelogue surrounding the perceptions of Scotch whisky, with various mishaps along the way, and her commentary on the findings. Friends and family joined her and discovered that whisky can be used to enhance all areas of life from food dishes and cocktails to music and travel. Such an enjoyable read.

The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries
Davin de Kergommeaux & Blair Phillips

Pretty much everything we know about Canadian whisky has come from the pen of Davin de Kergommeaux, the leading expert on the subject in our view. With information on Canadian whisky and brands sparse in the UK, we find his books a fascinating way to learn about whisky making from this vast country. Here he teams up with Blair Phillips, a contributing editor for Whisky Magazine and judge at the Canadian Whisky Awards, to cover the ever expanding world of Canadian spirits. That's all spirits, not just whisky.

There are over 200 distillery profiles from the massive commercials to small artisans, plus over 125 tasting notes and 50 cocktail recipes covering classics and modern takes. A great reference book to dip in and out of, and to learn from as you go along.

Malt Whisky Yearbook
Ingvar Ronde

This book is possibly our favourite of the selection. It is released annually around the Autumn time and is eagerly anticipated amongst the whisky community. The 2008 Edition was the first whisky book that we purchased and we continue to learn from it over a decade later. The book covers current trends and hot topics with some of the top whisky writers contributing articles, plus a bunch of brand sales statistics and other industry data.

However the main body of the book (and the reason we still carry it around with us in our work bags) is the extensive background to whisky producing distilleries around the world. This covers those in operation, new projects and long closed places. Each distillery has a page (or two in some cases) of information - this shows a historical timeline of events at each place, plus what is currently happening there and new whiskies released since the previous edition. A must have in anyone's collection.

Scotch Missed - The Lost Distilleries of Scotland
Brian Townsend

This classic from the early 1990s delves in to the rich history of the Scotch whisky industry and what remains of a host of distilleries that are no longer in existence and slipping further from our minds as time passes. It offers a look at a bygone era and the historic boom and bust nature of the industry. Townsend, a journalist by trade, tracked down some of the last people to work at some of the locations. The old buildings and workers all have a story to tell and these are interspersed with lovely old black and white photography.

The Scotch Whisky Distilleries
Misako Udo

Another classic, which is often referred to as 'the blue book' amongst those in the know. Udo's encyclopedic book is one for the true whisky enthusiast and is packed with technical information to a degree that we have not seen to this date. Udo built a fascination for whisky when working for the Scottish Tourist Guides Association as a Japanese guide for tourists and industry professionals alike. The book covers all known distilleries up to its 2005 release date including those in operation, closed, mothballed or lost forever.

Each distillery entry details extensive information such as ownership history, technical specifications of equipment and production information such as distillation times and ABV cuts of each still. Not one to take on holiday and read by the pool but an essential reference guide, even though it is a touch out of date now.

The Ultimate Burns Supper
Clark McGinn

Not a whisky book as such, but a absolute joy of a book none-the-less. McGinn is one of the world's foremost experts on the writings and life of Scotland's most famous poet Robert Burns. His book looks at the phenomenon of Burn's Night and how it came from humble beginnings in a rural corner of Scotland to become the unofficial national day of Scotland and spread across the world.

Everything is covered here - what to wear, what to expect, a list of common questions and misconceptions, plus of course the famous Address To A Haggis, one of Burns' most iconic poems, and how to deliver it. Of course whisky is never far away from the celebrations and has become an integral part of a good Burns Night.

Aeneas MacDonald

Published in 1930, this lovely little book is widely regarded as the first about whisky to be written from the drinkers point of view. It helped to propel whisky beyond the realms of the drinking elite and is passionate, provocative and poetic. It showed that whisky is a discerning drink and his writings remain relevant today, 90 years later. He talks about how, when, where and why to drink whisky and why each is important, plus why it feels integral to the Scottish national psyche, identity and economy. It is smart, intelligent and fun reading and it is easy to forget that you are ready text from a bygone era.

Whisky - A Tasting Guide
Eddie Ludlow

There are many books that follow a similar pattern to Ludlow's - the story of whisky, how it is made, how to taste it etc etc - but this is one of the best that we have seen to date. It comprehensively takes you from the very beginning of whisky history to the modern world of whisky cocktails and food pairings and most things in between, all aided by plenty of photography and informative and clear diagrams.

Nothing goes into great or complicated detail, but it gives enough depth, knowledge and fact to maintain interest for 200+ pages and get you right under the skin of the subject. Great for a beginner or someone wishing to expand their whisky knowledge and beautifully presented too. Excellent.

The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom
Alfred Barnard

Barnard's book is widely regarded as the most iconic book ever written about whisky. It holds legendary status amongst whisky fans and historians. Published over 130 years ago in 1887, the book details Barnard's epic journey around every single whisky distillery in the UK that was operating at the time. Of course many are still producing but many have fallen in to history, so it presents a fascinating snapshot in to the whisky industry (especially that of Scotland) in the late Victorian era.

It is the original whisky travelogue with an almost diary-like quality. Barnard's dry writing style presents stories of his travels (not just of the distilleries but events that happen when getting to them) and people that he met along the way, production facts and figures of each location and a series of lovely line drawings. What a classic.

Stefan Gabányi

This German book was first translated and published in English in 1997, having appeared in its original language a year before. Whisk(e)y is a handbook style of book and one to dip in and out of when you need information. It covers the main whisky producing regions of the world, different types of whisky and production methods, distilleries, bottling, the compnaies and the brands. The book also has over 500 illustrations by Gunter Mattei, which add to the retro charm. This is quirky but highly informative.

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