By Ray Pearson, Curator WhiskeyToursWorldwide.co
This is the second of a series of articles highlighting books about Scotch whisky. Future articles will spotlight books essential for research, food pairings, history, reviews of specific brands, music, and whisky-related novels. We hope you enjoy this new series and would love to hear your comments.
Books about Scotch whisky are not the easiest ones to find, especially in brick and mortar stores. They are usually relegated to the lower shelves in either the cooking or wine sections. Searching on the Internet is quite a bit easier – just remember that there is no ‘e’ in Scotch whisky. Using “the e spelling” will lead you to books about Bourbon and other American whiskies. Adding words like travel, map, and whisky trails will also help. Following is an introduction to five of my favorite Scotch whisky travel books.
The Whisky Trails – A Geographical Guide to Scotch Whisky, by Gordon Brown © 1993, Running Press, Philadelphia and London. The book is divided into “trails”, each in a different geographic region of Scotland, arranging local distilleries in a logical sequence – sort of like the children’s game of Park ‘n Shop – for adults! Heavily illustrated with straightforward photography, the book offers travelers’ tips on things like dealing with single track (one lane) roads in the Higlands, distillery times, telephone numbers and addresses. Each distillery’s whisky is explained, and many times, other places of interest in the immediate area are described. Under the listing for Craigellachie Distillery, for instance, we learn about nearby Ballindalloch Castle, the Whisky Trail, the Speyside Cooperage Visitor Center, and the River Spey – renowned for its salmon fishing.
The Island Whisky Trail – An Illustrated Guide to The Hebridean Distilleries, by Neil Wilson © 2003, Angels’ Share Press, Glasgow. The book’s first chapter, “A Barbarous People”, sets the tone for describing the rough and historically fascinating collection of islands off Scotland’s West Coast and their role in the genre of single malts known as “Island” whiskies. Vicariously, we sail on the 38-foot steel ketch Alystra, skippered by Tony Gill and assisted by his wife, Anya. Author Neil Wilson provides the commentary. This cruise takes us to the port of Oban, and to the islands of Islay, Jura, Mull and Skye. In addition to visiting operating distilleries on each island, Wilson takes us back in history to illicit stills, and to distilleries that have given up the ghost and no longer exist.
Scotland – The Land and the Whisky, by Roddy Martine with photography by Patrick Douglas-Hamilton, © 1994, John Murray Publishers, London.
Scotland and its Whiskies – The Great Whiskies and Their Landscapes, by Michael Jackson, with photography by Harry Cory Wright, © 2001, Harcourt, Inc., New York.
Both of these coffee table books capture the essence and sense of place of Scotland’s distilling regions. They provide a visual explanation of terroir – that quality of what makes each whisky unique from another. The Martine text and Douglas-Hamilton photography venture away from the distilleries to include castles, lochs, fauna, and an explanation of The Keepers of the Quaich, and the Quaich itself. This is an exclusive, international society, honoring leading representatives of the Scotch whisky industry. The Jackson text and Wright photographs take aim at “the spirit” of the subject matter with evocative, almost mystical, prose and pictures. The caption for a photo of a mountain river: “From the granite of the Grampian mountains … the water of life in the making. It will be a winding, heathery journey to the glass.” Or this: “When even the skies are stormy, the iridescence of the clouds half-hide the pagodas of Ardbeg. This magical headland cast a spell. Around the bay are irises, lilies and a curious scent of saffron. Lovers of Ardbeg become besotted.”
The World Atlas of Whisky, by Dave Broom, © 2010, Mitchell Beazley, London. This is an exhaustive, large format book with loads of maps and gorgeous photos detailing whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, the USA, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, India, and the Far East. Concise tasting notes are included for the several hundreds of brands included.