Whisky Advocate

Your favorite whisky writers? And why?

April 26th, 2010

When it comes to whisky writers, who do you enjoy reading? And why? Is it because you like their writing style? Or because you trust their reviews? Another reason, perhaps?

Let’s try to keep this discussion upbeat, so try not to dwell on why you don’t like someone. Also, to avoid any appearance of coming across as self-serving, please exclude me.

50 Responses to “Your favorite whisky writers? And why?”

  1. Gal says:

    i really like Serge Valentin’s writing, and Jim Murray’s (altough i dont agree with his notes, often)

    • Indeed Gal, the notes Valentin writes are always a good read. Jim Murray writes very well, although I usually don’t agree with him. I enjoy most writers based on the subject of their writing, which makes it a bit harder to rate a writer in general.

      Placed in the right time-frame, I think Alfred Barnard wrote some really good tales.

  2. I quite like Dave Broom, as well as Jim Murray, even if I seldom agree with their tastes.

  3. @yossiyitzak says:

    Great question. I visit so many different sites and all for different reasons.

    I like Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun! website due to the sheer number of reviews (a GREAT reference tool when looking for that new dram). And I think Serge’s tastes are somewhat similar to mine so, I trust that his notes will meet my palate.

    Whisky For Everyone is a great read because they seem to put everything in layman’s terms – very approachable.

    Guid Scotch Guide is a fantastic site! Great weekly columns (cigar & scotch pairing, “Say What!? column”, etc…) and great guest posts.

    I can not make a list without mentioning Dr. Whisky. While it appears he may be changing format, his insight is great. His tastes are spot on with mine. His wit, humor, etc… Pure enjoyment.

    Drink Spirits is a good one too with more of a focus on American whiskey & other spirits.

    Other sites I really enjoy are: Whisky Israel, Scotchhobbyist, Whisky Emporium… The list can go on and on…

    With regards to books – The Late Great Michael Jackson, Jim Murray, Dave Broom, Charles MacLean, David Daiches, etc… again, the list can go on a bit from here.

  4. G Llaguno says:

    I like the style of the late Michael Jackson, his style was unique. Very concrete without all the poetry stuff. It noted the basic whisky spirit and tried to describe it in a few words.
    Dave Broom is another great writer.

  5. Richard says:

    Michael Jackson was one of my favorites too. Currently, Chuck Cowdery and Dave Broom lead the pack for me.

  6. Paul M says:

    John Hansell is one of my favorites for Scotch,as my tastes seem to agree with his. I also like getting several opinions at once at LAWhisky Society. There are a few that have good descriptions without a rating, which I don’t care for. Overall, I haven’t seen anything that isn’t helpfull in some way.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Straight up, Paul– just say “John Hansell is one of my favourites” and have done with it. :)

      John already set the praise cycle in motion anyway. Asking people not to praise him– ha — Of course right then, he and put us all in mind of a massive tide of insipid praise, which unless contained by him will sweep away the interesting content from this discussion. It’s not John’s fault though, that modesty is so fundamentally problematic.

  7. Mats says:

    One of my favourites is Iain Banks. Not a regular whisky writer per se, but his “Raw Spirit – in search of the perfect dram” is a great guide to Scotlands distilleries and their products.

  8. Red_Arremer says:

    I guess there are “better” and “worse” whisky writers, but let’s face it– whisky writing isn’t 19th century psychological realism (rocket science) or german idealist philosophy (brain surgery). As long as the writer’s not illiterate the important thing is what he stands for in the whisky game and what delivers in terms of tasting notes, breaking news, and interesting facts. So for me it would have to be:

    1. Serge for his straightforward grappling with the ineliminability of elitism in whisky appreciation and his excellent and expansive notes.
    2. Ralfy for his uncompromising priniciples, general knowledge, continual striving for excellence and great vlog reviews.
    3. Another whisky writer, who I won’t name, who has a good palate, reviews things as they come out, tries to be fairminded and principled, and hosts some great discussions on his very compelling whisky blog.
    4. Dr. Whisky has fine tasting notes, which are articulately organized in relation to distillery info, personal experience, and other unexpected things.

    Btw John, that’s a nice example “self-serving” ;)

  9. lucky says:

    I enjoy reading “Mike” from Bourbon Enthusiast Forum most of all, I especially value the observations of his dog. Humor and an appreciation of age as applied to spirits and life make his posts valuable and entertaining.
    Also I find Mike Veach “bourbonv” and Chuck Cowdry entertaining and instructive. Chuck’s Blog (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/page2.html) is a daily check for me.

  10. Max Watman says:

    I really enjoy reading and learn a lot from Charles MacLean, Chuck Cowdery, and Jim Murray.

    I’m leaving Hansell off, because he told me to, but it’s not really fair, is it?

  11. Jerome says:

    I’ve always enjoyed the style of Johannes van den Heuvel. He is a man who is passionate about whisky and is able to communicate his passion in a way that allows others to share his experience easily. I’m appreciative of what he has accomplished with his maltmadness and maltmaniacs websites.

  12. Kenji says:

    My personal favourites :

    For lightheartness: “Raw Spirit – in search of the perfect dram” : Iain Banks

    For all round greatness: “Maclean’s Miscellany of Whisky” ; Charles MacLean

  13. two-bit cowboy says:

    Have to agree on Serge (see his notes on Kilkerran: “clean wet dog (not just any street mongrel)” — wonderful, insightful, and entertaining), Ralphy (Laphroaig 15), and John (Edradour Caledonia, Jura Prophecy, and Ardbeg Corry… are noteables).

    Other favorites not already mentioned include Lawrence Graham (whiskyintelligence.com), Gavin D. Smith (whisky-pages.com), and Kevin Erskine, especially his book.

    These writers’ collective wisdom fills a part of my week — every week. Thanks to all.

  14. bgulien says:

    To put a Dutch note in – Hans Offringa, the writer of the Legend of Laphroaig and Jazz and Whisk[e]y and many more (also translated in to English).
    Michail Jackson, David Broom, Charles McLean, Iain Buxton and Gavin D. Smith. I also like to mention Andrew Jefford for his truly unique Peat, Smoke and Spirit.
    And of course, a certain Mr. Hansell I reckon to be up there.
    And the above not in any particular order!

  15. two-bit cowboy says:

    No ladies?

    Why not?

    Monique?

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Haha, of course two-bit, but I know you don’t mean it as affirmative action ;)

      • two-bit cowboy says:

        You’re right, Red, I don’t. About half the folks who attend our tastings are ladies. Discerning palates, some sherry heads, some peat freaks. Just curious why more women don’t write what they know.

        • Red_Arremer says:

          Of course. In fact my girlfriend, is a big whisky lover and something of a peat freak: she recently bought herself a bottle of PC6.

          Though you may be seeing tastings that are half women I’m certainly not, and I go to my fare share. Wine tastings and beer tastings tend to have a much more even gender mix. I wonder what it is about whisky…

          • two-bit cowboy says:

            Stigma? Stereotype? Or some other such societal standard? (sorry for the alliteration)

            Wonder, too, if it could be a regional thing.

  16. JohnM says:

    Michael Jackson, Dave Broom and John Hansell, and Jim Murray too, even if I take his writing with a pinch of salt. I think those three are not snobbish about whiskey, particularly yourself, Jackson and Broom, never looking down your nose at bourbon, Irish, Canadian etc. I think Jim Murray is a little too fond of Ardbeg, even if I think it’s one of the great distilleries myself.

    I’m sure Serge is very good, but I think the tasting notes are way over the top. This is just my opinion, though, and I think he deserves respect for what he does. I also think he marks down non-scotch whiskey, Irish in particular.

  17. JohnM says:

    Sorry! Didn’t read the brief properly… Anyway, I like these writers because of their style and I trust their reviews (even though I still don’t think it’s humanly possible to mark out of 100!)

    Don’t mean to be negative about Serge – he’s very good at what he does.

  18. whiskeyminis says:

    Chuck Cowdery and Mike Veach.
    Both for their endless knowledge on the bourbon industry and especially Chuck because he says what he think despite what other may say.

  19. Chris S. says:

    Michael Jackson, the one and only, R.I.P.

    By the way, writer is another thing and expert / connoiseur / taster / blogger / journalist / whatever another.

    I also like Dave Broom’s writing style and much enjoyed the book “Road to Craigellachie” by Hans Offringa.

  20. David Stirk says:

    Although Michael’s Companion was my first whisky book, it was the passion and zeal that Jim Murray puts across in his whisky books that really got me into it in a big way. If I could read Dutch, knowing the guy as I do, I’m sure I would love Robin Brilleman’s books. I like Dave Broom’s columns but am still waiting for a more personal book from him.

  21. Joe M says:

    I greatly enjoyed Gary Regan’s work on Bourbon.

    • Mitch Gurowitz says:

      I just got this book last week and was enjoying it, but was very surprised about Gary’s comments about serving many bourbon’s over ice in his tasting reviews. I was wondering if others here agree with this.

  22. Mitch Gurowitz says:

    I’m still very new to all of this, but I have enjoyed reading Michael Jackson’s works as well as John Hansell’s (Obviously, or I wouldn’t have found my way here to this blog). I like Mark Gillespie’s podcast and his reviews and I also enjoy reading the tasting notes at whiskyguild.com – I find that when Jeffrey Karlovitch’s likes something that I often agree. I also enjoy Ralfy’s banter (though I wish sometimes he would expand further on this feelings about the taste)

    One question I would like to ask John (and anyone else who reads this and reviews Whiskies)- Do you feel compelled when reviewing an expensive whisky to give it a better review than a less expensive bottle from the same distillery? Without mentioning any one distillery or any reviewers, I often see people give a 91 rating to the 15 year old and a 92 to the 18- Is this because it always warrants it and is always worth the extra money, or do you feel that you have to give the extra point, even if it seems indistinguishable?

    When I was at my first whisky tasting (a few months back) I overheard someone noting the Highland Park 25 was better than the 30 (I kept quiet but disagreed and purchased my bottle of the 30 last week). I suppose we can only say our personal feelings as to what “we enjoy the taste of” and hope we can find writers that share our sense of taste, right?

  23. John Hansell says:

    Good recommendations, everyone. Hopefully, some of the readers here will discover a new whisky writer or two because of this post. Many of the individuals mentioned have blogs and you can find them listed on the right column under “What Does Everyone Else Know?”.

  24. Seth Nadel says:

    I like Paul Pacult. He seems so full of crap that you think he knows what he’s talking about.

  25. Patrrick says:

    I really like the work of Charles Maclean and Ian Buxton.

    Well written and clear books.

    In a different category, there is Misako Udo with her Catalogue (Scotch Whisky Distilleries).

    Ian bainks is a very refreshing read
    Ross Wilson wrote some interesting books a few decades ago.
    Jefford and his beautiful Peat Smoke and fire, bringing me back to Islay.

    and I should not forget MJ, without whom I am not writing here now …

  26. Pat Baldwin says:

    I enjoy and have learned from Michael Jackson, Jim Murray, Charles McLean and John Hansell. I read many others as well and enjoy many authors on whisky.

  27. Bomber says:

    Dave Broom, Jim Murray and Martine Nouet

  28. Texas says:

    Serge, for sure. Whiskyfun was the first site of the type I ever saw. His opinions have almost always been spot on with mine. I also like the fact that he is a prolific taster. To me his notes aren’t over the top just very detailed and I also like the fact he almost always has a with/without water comment.

    Although not a “writer”..I also immensely enjoy Ralfy’s video reviews.

  29. MrTH says:

    Jackson was the Source.

    I like Dave Broom’s work, and having met him, found him to be a humble and down-to-earth guy.

  30. Steffen Bräuner says:

    My favourite books are Pip Hill’s “Appreciating Whisky”, Jeffords “Peat Smoke and Spirit” and David Milsted’s “Bluffer’s Guide to Whisky” :-)

    /Macdeffe

    • Mitch Gurowitz says:

      Philip Hills Book seems to go for a great sum on Amazon, it is available at a more reasonable price elsewhere?

      • Henry H. says:

        I too keep looking for Pip Hill’s out-of-print book at a reasonable price. If anyone has a copy (or ten) to part with, please let us know. Considering the rise in interest in all things whisky, you’d think it would be back in print.

  31. two-bit cowboy says:

    Helen Arthur, anyone?

    I’m not familiar with her work, but she’s there.

    We hosted three tastings this month. As usual for us, ladies played a big part, from peat to sweet. Where are their voices in all this? Certainly must be more than the casual mentions here. Or not?

  32. PWilson says:

    I’m based in Tokyo, so Chris Bunting on Nonjatta, about Japanese whisky. Doesn’t seem to write much outside the blog but it is usually new when he writes it.
    I also really like David Broom, Serge, Dr Whisky (who is also on Nonjatta occasionally)

  33. B.J. Reed says:

    Well, the best book I have read is Andrew Jefford’s Peat Smoke and Spirit but the best whisky writer is probably David Broom. I like his knowledge and the way he articulates and breaths life into his reviews and stories about the industry.

  34. Nonjatta says:

    People like Serge Valentin, David Broom, Dr Whisky, Charles McLean are all excellent. Michael Jackson was of course a genuinely significant writer, not just in whisky terms but in a wider sense. I really love Whiskyfun.com. A proper break from the day`s grind. But someone who I don`t think has been mentioned and who I think is really excellent is Ian Wisniewski. Every time I read something by him I learn something concrete. There is a great piece by him in 2010 Malt Whisky Yearbook about peated malts.
    (Thanks PWilson for your nice mention but I think I have got a decade or two and a palate transplant to go before I deserve mentioning in some of this sort of company. I will say though that I do write a bit outside the blog. Eg. for Whisky Mag, the Whiskey and Philosophy book linked by Marcus above and a couple of books which I keep promising people and someday (hopefully one of the by the end of the year) will actually be out!)

  35. Tadas says:

    My favorite writers are:
    Folks from Beverage Tasting Institute (tastings.com)
    Christopher Carlsson from spiritsreview.com

    What I really like about them, that they try provide fair and honest reviews with no bias. They write reviews about all types of alcoholic beverages not just whiskey.

  36. Neil Fusillo says:

    I will still always have a special place in my heart for Michael Jackson, but Dave Broom is an excellent writer. I enjoy the writings of Jim Murray to a degree as well. While I don’t agree with his tastes, and sometimes find him a bit haphazard, he’s delightfully descriptive and personable in the way he writes.

    I actually enjoy the commenters here as well. While they’re not professional writers, their sheer amateur enthusiasm for the spirit makes them wonderfully entertaining to read.

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