Whisky Advocate

Update on Michael Jackson’s “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch”

January 23rd, 2009

If you’ve been following this blog over the past year, you will know that UK drinks writer Dave Broom and I were offered the job of continuing Michael Jackson’s “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch” (Published as the “Malt Whisky Companion” in the UK). Dave and I were good friends of Michael, and we respected his work very much. We were honored to be asked to carry the torch after Michael’s passing.

The way we proposed it to the publisher is that I would review whiskies that came to the US, while Dave would review the whiskies that didn’t come to the US. We would split up the whiskies that went everywhere.

But we had a differing opinion with the publisher regarding the content of the revision. The publisher only wanted a minor “patchwork” rewrite, while Dave and I both felt that a major revision would be needed because so many of the whiskies in the book were obsolete and there were hundreds of new whiskies that needed to be included. I wrote about our reasons here.

All I can say now is that I know there are three writers involved with the revision. Two of them are from the UK and write regularly for Malt Advocate (Gavin Smith, Dominic Roskrow). The third individual, a whisky enthusiast, writer, and lawyer who specializes in criminal and traffic law, is from the US (Bill Meyers).

I don’t know the book’s scope, nor do I know exactly when the book will come out. When I was in negotiations with the publisher, it was going to be the end of 2009 or shortly thereafter.

I wish the guys luck with the project, and I hope they can keep Michael’s legacy going strong.

15 Responses to “Update on Michael Jackson’s “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch””

  1. JC Skinner says:

    It won’t be Michael Jackson’s guide, and it shouldn’t have his name on it.
    If it does, I for one won’t be even touching it.
    Just my 2c.

  2. YT says:

    It seems odd that these fine gentlemen have signed on. Could it be the publisher’s original wishes will be granted? Still. I’m in agreement with you, John. The book would need to be completely updated, and you and Dave are indeed a fine choice to inherit the mantle. They will have some large shoes to fill.

    Having said that, I agree with JC’s comments. If it indeed is updated, in any form, it is no longer Michael’s work, and, therefore, should not carry his name. It would seem odd, and if anything, a marketing tactic. In honour of him would seem more appropriate.

    I will certainly cherish my edition of the Companion that Michael penned.


  3. John Hansell says:

    JC & YT: That was one of the other issues I struggled with. If it’s Michael’s book, should other people be offering up their tasting notes? Or, as you said YT, would it be better if, for example, Dave and I published our own book in honor of Michael. This is an issue certainly worthy of debate.

  4. yang wang says:

    looking forward to reading it

  5. JC Skinner says:

    I don’t see a problem with a book that preserves the format Michael used, and that pays tribute to the groundbreaking work he did.
    And I can think of no one better than yourself and Mr Broom when it comes to providing useful and informative tasting notes.
    I just don’t think any book should come out with Michael’s name on it that he didn’t write himself.

  6. John Hansell says:

    BTW, I didn’t want to paint a negative picture of the new book. The guys continuing Michael’s legacy are great writers and passionate about whisky. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be part of the Malt Advocate team.

  7. I think Dominic Roskrows tasting notes in this years “Whisky Yearbook” are just terrific (especially in contrast to the other writer who contributed them). I have not read any tasting notes written by Gavin Smith, although I appreciate his books.

    So as far as I can tell Michael’s book will remain a high quality read. The question if it should still carry his name is perhaps more difficult. It might help to remind yourself that many books are listed not by the authors’ names, but by those of the publisher.

  8. Tony Menechella says:

    As a fan of whisky worldwide, I would LOVE to see a joint project with you and Dave, as you proposed it to the publisher. While I enjoyed Michael Jackson’s book, it is in need of more than just patchwork. Regardless of who does what, any release should be a tribute to Michael, and IMHO should not have his name in the titel.

  9. Bryan C says:

    That is too bad that the editor did not agree that a major re-write was necessary. I can tell you personally when I first started getting into single malts I would tow his book around with me to various stores and I struggled to find much of what was on the shelf in his book. I wish them luck in continuing on his legacy, but I fear that other books out there may become the new standard unless the recognize the issue here.

  10. Neil Fusillo says:

    Michael Jackson’s guide has always been my absolute favourite of the works out there. I’d often find a fun whisky at a tasting, try it, write down my notes, and then compare with his to see the similarities and differences. We were similar more often than not in both our tasting notes and our ratings.

    While it’s unlikely I’d ever find such a similarity of tastes again with other writers, it would be a shame to let such an excellent style of work fall by the wayside. The careful notes, prefaced with some information about the past and present distillery goings-on, as well as wonderful information in the beginning about history and trends… it should not simply be abandoned. If there is any book I could point to for someone just getting into scotch, it would be his.

    That said, I do agree that a rewrite is somewhat in order. The last release was four years ago (and written five or five and a half), during which time the whisky market has continued to progress at its modern, break-neck pace. Several of the whiskies now available simply didn’t exist yet back in that release, and many of his favourites are nigh impossible to find.

    While it would be nice, for historical purposes, to keep his notes about past whiskies, it seems that keeping ALL the information and simply adding new with a similar format would end up being a bit of a mess.

    I shall await my judgement on the final release when indeed it does arrive. And while I trust the Malt Advocate writers to do a good job, I am quite certain that Michael Jackson’s Guide is no more. The publisher should realise this and allow some latitude.

  11. John Hansell says:

    Yes, let’s hope for the best with the next revision. Let’s not be judgemental until we see how it looks. I know the writers will do their best to put out a great product within whatever limitations they have been given.

  12. Todd says:

    Sounds like a combination of good writers and a bad editorial decision. I have all editions of MJs book and the last while packed with information is now quite out of date. I thumbed through my copy last night and many of the expressions scored and reviewed are no longer available, particularly the IBs. A major revision is required – I’m going to pass until this happens. There are plenty of alternative sources of up to date information including this blog.

  13. John Hansell says:

    Todd, there’s no doubt in my mind that these guys are capable of doing a good job of it. Let’s hope that the publisher allows them to show how good they really are.

  14. Keith Patton says:

    Why would I shell out another $20+ bucks for a minor re-write by a traffic layer “scotch enthusiast” and two UK writers of which I have never heard? Sounds like avarice and greed on the part of the publisher. I’ll just have to research the new entries on my own, rather than go by questionable input from publisher’s new writing team. Remember the committee that designed the horse? We ended up with the camel. There will probably be little if any consistency in their evaluations. What’s that I hear? Michael is opening a beer….

  15. Rob says:

    Don’t want to start a war here, but wouldn’t a guy from Scotland say, ‘what does a guy from the UK know about Scotch?’.

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