Newspapers, magazines, radio, television
and even films contain loads of advertising.
Fortunately, there’s one ‘mass medium’ left
that’s still mostly free of advertising: books.
But you already know a lot more about whisky than ‘Joe Public’ - we can build on that.
When I write this (March 2015), huge chunks of MM are still ‘under reconstruction’.
However, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to stop learning more about whiskey.
If you’ve followed this guide’s guidance you now have some practice with tasting whisky.
And you also know some stuff about the distillation, maturation and bottling of whiskey.
So, does that make you a whisky expert yet? Well, not quite yet, I’m afraid...
Most ‘Whisky News’ that reaches the
public these days is advertising & PR,
redressed as ‘neutral’ information.
You don’t gain the best insights from
the (mis)information which is spread,
but from figuring out how lobbies try
to avoid or spin certain topics.
First of all, hundreds of pages of the old website are still
(more or less) surfable - in particular the Distillery Data
section, the interactive map & the Malt Maniacs archive.
And now that the web has gone all world-wide on us, you
can find more facts, fiction and personal opinions there.
A lot of the ‘free’ information on the web and on ‘social‘
media is actually paid for indirectly, so it would be advisable
to ‘keep your mind open - but not too open’ while you are learning from the web.
I’ve come to believe that the kind of advertising that you see on the outer edges of
the pages of Malt Madness is preferable to sneaky ‘content marketing’ tactics.
Even traditional media are now so interwoven with the
advertising industry that an average consumer gets
exposed to overt & covert advertising all day long.
In a way, a whisky book seems far better
suited to the ‘contemplative’ pace of a malt
whisky. For the price of a mediocre whisky,
you could also get yourself a good book...
So, the ‘Reading List’ below contains some suggestions...
Dave Broom's World Atlas of Whisky ranks high on the list of my
personal favourite whisky books. And that's not just because it's the
most impressive book on my shelves; Michael Jackson's "Whisky
Encyclopaedia" and a few other books are comparable in size.
Just like the name 'atlas' suggests, this book takes a closer look at
the whisky distilleries of the world from a 'geographic' point of view.
All distilleries are combined into regional groups, and about a third of
the book deals with ‘world whiskeys’. The part about Scotland covers
the other two thirds of this world atlas of whisky.
The photography is stunning and the same goes for the large, detailed
whisky maps. Although this whisky book doesn’t focus on tasting notes,
Dave has tasted at least one expression from every brand & distillery.
All in all, this book deserves a sweet spot in anybody's whisky collection.
The same goes for The Making of Scotch Whisky by J. R. Hume & R. S. Moss.
The first edition was published in 1981 to commemorate the centenary of the Bruichladdich distillery and
it provides a fascinating look into the Scotch whisky industry around 1980, which was booming at the time.
In fact, the book is excellent if you want to dig even deeper into the history of whisky production in Scotland.
The Scotch Whisky Industry Report offers a little information on hundreds of closed and long forgotten
distilleries like Abbeyhill, Aberfoyle, Anchoragan, Ballintomb, Barkmill, Clydesdale, etcetera.
It's not necessary to have visited the windswept island of Islay to
enjoy Andrew Jefford's Peat, Smoke & Spirit - but it doesn't hurt.
Any book about an island with more than half a dozen malt whisky
distilleries can't escape the topic, but this book goes far beyond
the water of life alone. It’s like... literature...
Because the writer includes topics like the history, the geography
and the people of the island in the book, it really helps one to fall in
love with an island off the Western coast of Scotland. It's a very
different sort of book than most of the 'reference' type books...
Meanwhile, ‘malt maniac’ Charlie MacLean has written many
wonderful books on whisky as well. Probably my personal favourite
is MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky - the perfect companion piece
to the other whisky books at the top of my reading list. It covers a lot
of the "smaller" interesting topics that the other whisky books have
to gloss over - like the history of whisky bottles. This book is filled with
light-hearted yet interesting information on whisky related topics.
Even when Michael Jackson was still alive, there were similar alternatives.
These days, even more variations of this format are available; a pocket book with a blend of broad whisky
information, a guide to the whisky regions, nosing & tasting notes and tips, Scotch whisky distillery maps,
facts and figures about distilleries, etc. Such a format is perfect for relative beginners in the whisky world.
One alternative for the Companion is The Malt Whisky File written by John Lamond & Robin Tucek.
It contains a few ‘unique’ sections, like hints on pronunciation and price indications for whisky bottlings.
And then there’s The World's Best Whiskies by Dominic Roskrow.
This book is very well written and features stunning photography.
There is also some welcome attention for the glassware that is
used to enjoy whisky. There's one problem with the book though.
The title suggests that the book features the 750 BEST whiskies,
but it does not - unless you agree that Cutty Sark, Johnnie Walker
Red Label and Slyrs are amongst the best whiskies in the world...
Also, independent whisky bottlings are hardly mentioned.
If you are a relative beginner (or if you want to give a whisky book
to a potential whisky lover), Dominic's book also provides a great
check list for everybody that's just discovering the whisky world.
Finally, I should mention the Malt Whisky Companion by the
late, great whisky author Michael "not the pop singer" Jackson.
It was indeed a trusted ‘companion’ during my formative years.
These were just a few whisky book suggestions - dozens of new whisky books are published each year.
For me, paper still has a role to play in a time of smart phones - if only in subway trains and on the toilet...
And that’s, as they say, “it” for the first 10 chapters of this Beginner’s Guide to Malt Whisky.
I hope that you have found some useful information here. After a few whisky tastings (and perhaps
reading a few whisky books), you’re not an ‘absolute beginner’ anymore - when it comes to whisky.
If you are not doing so already, perhaps now is a good time to start sharing your enjoyment...
Even mediocre whiskey tastes better when it’s shared with friends.
In fact, whiskey tends to inhibit social inhibitions, so after a few drams vague acquaintances or
even complete strangers will do just fine. As long as your enjoyment doesn’t exceed responsible
behaviour (or has unhealthy consequences for you or others), whisky can ‘enhance’ your life.
Just as I was wrapping up the third
re-write of this Beginner’s Guide in
2015, Google announced that old
fashioned ‘static’ websites like these
will rank lower in future search results.
So, future updates will probably occur
elsewhere on the world wide web...
Whisky tastings and whisky festivals are good opportunities to meet like-minded spirits.
Just keep in mind that the people that are paid to be there might have some ulterior motives.
Phew... I guess that’s all - for now...
I’d like to use the last paragraph of these ten chapters about malt
whisky to thank all of the people that have helped me put this guide
together. Part of the knowledge here was gleaned from experience
whisky books and the web, but a few people helped me a lot.
Special thanks go to Charles MacLean, Davin de Kergommeaux,
Olivier Humbrecht, Krishna Nukala and Michael Blaum from the
Blaum Bros distillery in Illinnois, USA for providing feedback. .
Even after reading just one chapter of the Beginner’s Guide you should know more about malt whisky than you
did before - provided you were a proper beginner to begin with... And even though parts of MM have not been
fully reconstructed yet, you can find much more information about various aspects of the malt whisky world here:
An overview of the Scotch whisky industry, divided by the ownership of distilleries.
A list of the major Scotch whisky bottlers - both independent and industry-owned.
There are far more malt whisky brands than there are malt whisky distilleries.
An overview of all active and recently closed whisky distilleries in Scotland.
The whisky regions of Scotland have lost much of their significance these days.
As the ugly red-haired step-sibling of malt whisky, grain whisky is rarely mentioned.
The Whisky Lexicon offers an A-Z overview of 750 whisky words and phrases.
On the page with “A words” you can find more about ABV, after-shots and aldehydes.
The page with “B words” offers insights into barley, barrels, bastard malts and BFYB.
The “C words” page looks at words and phrases like caramel, copita and cultivar.