Whisky Advocate

Guest post: Book review of “Great Whiskies: 500 of the Best from around the world”

June 13th, 2011

Jonny McCormick, regular Malt Advocate magazine contributor, joins us today with a new book review.

Great Whiskies: 500 of the Best from around the world
Editor-in-Chief Charles MacLean
Published by DK (Dorling Kindersley)
384 pages

My mission is to sift through the new whisky book titles to help you choose the right books for you, in the same way as whisky reviews can be the next best thing to sipping a new release. Hopefully, this will mean everyone gets the most for their dollars and the publishing world will continue to intrigue us with interesting and creative whisky books.

Today’s offering is more suitable for those in the earlier stages of their whisky journeys, or those people who could use a handy reference book in the bar to educate their staff and customers. Dorling Kindersley have filleted World Whisky (DK, 2009) to produce Great Whiskies, a straightforward A-Z handbook of fantastic whisk(e)y brands. One of the pleasures of whisky is the unquenchable capacity for new learning – even the greats of the industry will admit there are always fresh aspects to discover. The achievement of this book is the wealth of information packed into a chunky handbook.

DK are to be congratulated and Charles MacLean, to his great credit, has performed a fine job as editor-in-chief in ensuring the book has a consistency of style that masks the collaborative variance of using multiple authors. This is matched by the clarity of the layout, and the conceptual simplicity and uniformity of the bottle photographs.

Amongst the contributing writers are fellow Malt Advocate regulars Dave Broom and Gavin D Smith who have covered Japanese and American whiskies, respectively. Peter Mulryan manages the Irish whiskies, Tom Bruce-Gardyne covers single malts from Scotland, Ian Buxton acts as the curator of blended whisky, Hans Offringa tackles European whisky whilst MacLean himself has handled Canada, Australasia and Asia.

A concise column on each brand covers history and production in about 100 words, before succinct tasting notes are provided on key bottlings.  Certain world-beating brands are given space over two pages with four reviews. Double spread touring guides of Islay, Speyside, Ireland, Japan and Kentucky periodically interrupt the alphabetical format.

One missed opportunity was to not update the information from World Whisky before pulling this text together so for example, tasting notes for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection are from the 2008 releases.  On occasion, this can make the page look slightly dated particularly when examining the newer distillers (where we are shown Mackmyra Preludium or Kilchoman New Make Spirit products) or the brands benefitting from recent repackaging initiatives (see Deanston, Tobermory or Fettercairn).

While there are 500 listed bottlings in Great Whiskies (but not 500 brands), there is no mention of the criteria used to define their greatness. The most obvious parallels are with Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies to try before you die but the whiskies chosen here have a broader price range (the most expensive is probably The Last Drop) and the range of blends marketed the world over mean that you’re not going to be able to easily get your hands on certain bottles.

This is the perfect topic crying out for an e-book version for easy reference on the move – how about it DK?

EDITOR’S NOTE: While the author does hint that some of the material is outdated, please see the comment thread below for more information.

16 Responses to “Guest post: Book review of “Great Whiskies: 500 of the Best from around the world””

  1. sam k says:

    With Wild Turkey 80 proof on the cover, I can only assume that it was chosen as one of the world’s best. If that’s the case, then I’m concerned for the credibility of other choices. Good to see George Dickel 90 on that same cover, though!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Could be a gaffe by the graphic designer who did the cover as any whisky fan knows that the 101 is the iconic one…

  2. Louis says:

    Seagrams VO is even worse. But I wonder if this is by design, to attract whisk(e)y newcomers with names they are familiar with. Most of the general public wouldn’t even know what WT Rare Breed is, let alone Kilchoman.

  3. Jonny McCormick says:

    I agree, Louis. A defintion of “greatness” would have been helpful but hey, don’t judge a book by its…Anyway, the author rarely has much say in the jacket design – see Roskrow’s First Law of Whisky Publishing in the WDJK review of Dominic Roskrow’s book.
    For the record, the Wild Turkey reviews are for 80 proof, 101 proof, WT Rare Breed and WT Kentucky Spirit.

  4. JWC says:

    i was able to browse through the book and agree with the review both about its strength and weaknesses. like everyone else, i was a bit confused about what was included and what was not included.

  5. Dominic Roskrow says:

    Is this a new book or an American version of either of Charlie MacLean’s DK’ s Eyewitness Companion or World Whiskies book? And if it is new, is the content different to those books or another rehash?

    • Jonny McCormick says:

      This is not new writing, as I understand it – the material was first published in DK’s World Whisky (2009)

  6. Dominic Roskrow says:

    Much of which was lifted from DK’s Eyewitness Companion to Whisky, in particular the slightly important Scottish single malt this is a third DK book with much of the same copy. Am I alone in thinking this is a rip off? Shouldn’t Malt Advocate readers be fully and clearly warned of this?

  7. Dominic Roskrow says:

    Not sure why the writers involved are staying so quiet on this, but Gavin Smith tells me that this is a cut and paste job using material at least three and in some cases five years old. The authors weren’t informed of the new format and name, haven’t been paid, and haven’t even received a copy of their work. With all due respect, readers are being misled and any review of this book should have highlighted this in large red letters. If we’re serious about what we do we should castigate publishers for not just exploiting readers but for devaluing the reputation of writers who may be seen to be out of touch because of the age of the work. This happened a couple of years back with Jim Murray. In that case the book was 10 or 11 years out of date and included in 2009 a section looking at the imminent opening of Arran! This is not just wrong -it’s outrageous!

  8. dave broom says:

    The writers aren’t staying quiet (inferring some collusion with the publisher) The writers weren’t told that their work was being rehashed for a third time until now. I apparently have written some of this book but haven’t even seen a copy of it. Neither – inevitably – have I received any money for the reworking of my material into a new title. I’m in touch with DK but don’t hold your breath.

  9. Dominic Roskrow says:

    Sorry – I never meant to make that inference. On the contrary, my last post was clearly a robust defense of writers being exploited, and said explicitly everything that Dave says in his post in very similar terms. Gavin told me six days ago about his unhappiness and implied that all the writers were furious. The review is a week old. I was merely pointing out that their defense shouldn’t have come from me.

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