The beauty of books about whiskey (vs. books about wine) is that they needn’t be replaced quite so often with new ones. Compared to the wine world, the whiskey world is relatively plodding in speed, and the Black Label you drink today is going to taste and be made an awful lot like the Black Label of 10 years ago.
With Whiskypedia: A Compendium of Scottish Whisky, Charles MacLean takes a different approach than Michael Jackson and Jim Murray, with an emphasis not on rating every whisky under the sun but rather on exploring how they are made.
As the title implies, the book is set up like an encyclopedia, with Scottish distilleries (single malt only) arranged in alphabetical order. Other whiskey regions are not included. Flip to your favorite purveyor and you’re likely to find a brief history of the facilities, its ownership (MacLean spends a lot of time on how distilleries have changed hands over the centuries), and a section of “curiosities”: Trivia about that distillery’s whisky. The entries end with a discussion of the various available expressions, and an in-depth look at the materials the distillery uses: Where its water and malt come from, the size of the plant and the equipment therein, even where barrels are sourced. Not every entry has every scrap of data, but Whiskypedia is amazingly comprehensive on the whole.
What’s lacking is much of a sense of how these whiskys actually taste. MacLean goes into the house style of each of the 134 distilleries he covers here, but that only gets you so far. Even consistent houses will vary dramatically from expression to expression, and MacLean’s coverage of these is relegated to a simple list of what’s on the market — and I’ve found some holes there, too.
If you’re curious what, say. Glen Ord’s eight washbacks are made out of (Oregon pine, by the way), Whiskypedia sure beats the hell out of searching the web.
As a side note, I imagine MacLean is horrified that the publisher chose as the cover art a glass of whisky with ice in it — anathema for any single malt drinker.
B / $12 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]