Guest post: review of “Whisky in Your Pocket”December 20th, 2010
Today, Jonny McCormick offers up another book review for us on WDJK.
Whisky in Your Pocket (by Wallace Milroy and Neil Wilson)
Published by Waverley Books | 188 pages
Having chalked up greater than 300,000 sales internationally since it was first published over a quarter of a century ago, this book based on the original Malt Whisky Almanac, was once an ideal platform for a journey into whisky. However, it has been 12 years since the last revision and the world of whisky is now a very different place. The authors’ objectives are to hook a readership of new whisky fans, which they see as the kind of customer at their local supermarket standing bewildered in front of the choices on offer. It’s a return to first principles, and explanation of the basics, they say. Picture what that supermarket whisky shopper would make of this book.
The book covers Scotch whisky and the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland, so not UK whisky, not Irish whiskey, nor American, Canadian, Japanese or any of the other New World whisky producing countries. The introduction has many stories to tell but raises many points of confusion rather than providing a concise opening. The first territory map is puzzling with the colour shading indicating whisky regions in Northern Britain although to the newcomer, it would appear that the Isle of Lewis is a distilling powerhouse whereas the dab of pink indicates a small craft distillery in Bushmills. The first single malt whisky label in the book is a Brora Rare Malts…I don’t know about you, but my supermarket hasn’t been the best place to find Brora for many, many years.
However, there is a good chapter for beginners covering the definitions of what can be labelled as blended whisky, single malt, blended malt, blended grain and single grain and the bottle illustrations are helpful. As a newcomer’s book, a glossary of terms would have been helpful especially for the chapter on production but I’m not sure the supermarket shopper really needs this information.
The main text is divided into regions with greater coverage given to active distilleries over closed and mothballed sites with each page featuring a distillery, address, production statistics and the standard core bottling. Each chapter section opens with a well-pitched overview of the region or whisky category. The pronunciation guide is good for novices, but not required quite so extensively…. do that many people struggle to say Dalmore or Ardbeg correctly? The printed tasting notes are actually reproductions of the companies own notes the authors admit, so disappointingly, there has been no attempt to rate or provide an independent opinion and the style varies between entries. Each page contains information on annual output, number of wash stills, water source and malt source that quite simply, newcomers will not find helpful to discern quality or guide early purchases. Another concern is that the UK prices in the book may date quickly, most notable with the tax rises coming in 2011.
When you are starting out, you need clear pointers. What you really want to know is; What is the good stuff? What should I try? What should I buy? This book doesn’t make it easy to answer those questions and whilst in earlier incarnations it played its role, these days a goggle at a search engine will likely be much more informative. My expectations of what information should be written into a pocket book on whisky may differ from the authors, but putting myself into the shoes of a whisky novice, it throws into stark relief just how successfully Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die book has captured the mood conducive to entering the world of whisky that we share.
What book would you recommend to a friend who is just getting a taste for whisky?