Friday, January 2, 2015

Instant Expert: Whiskey, by John Lamond

Princeton Architectural Press, the U.S. publisher of John Lamond's book Whiskey, included it in their "Instant Expert" series (the other books are Champagne, Shoes, and Lingerie; shoot, a fellah could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff). If becoming an instant expert is too modest a goal, Hardy Grant published the same book as Le Snob Guide to Whisky (the "Le Snob" series has all the "Instant Expert" books, as well as Perfume, Tailoring, and Cigars).

It's a charming little hardback, complete with an elastic band that wraps around the book to mark your page, or just to make sure the book doesn't fall open in front of inexperts.

Shut tight against prying eyes.

In the opening section, "Fundamentals," Lamond (@whiskytutor) explains how whiskey is made, what the different major types of whiskey are, and how to appreciate and serve it. And you'd better appreciate and serve it right:
Whiskey deserves care, attention, and delicacy in its serving. Even a simple blend often contains whiskeys created decades ago by artisans who are now no longer with us. A single malt is the epitome of that distillery's production, and so deserves respect and reverence.

The bulk of the book is a catalog of distilleries in Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., and "International" (Japan, Canada, Europe, and "Rest of the World"). Each entry includes the location, telephone number (!), and website (if any), followed by a short paragraph about the distillery, then descriptions of one or more whiskeys made there.

Some expressions are flagged as "Expert Essential." Many of the Expert Essential Scotches (Glenfarclas 40 y.o., Edradour Super Tuscan Finish, Highland Part 40 y.o.) seem rare and exceptional to me, most of the American whiskeys (Woodford Reserve, Maker's 46, George Dickel 12) not so much.

Illustrating Glenrothes 1994 & Dalmore 40 yo.
I have to say, some of the distillery descriptions read like ad copy ("The height of [Glenmorangie's] stills means that only the finest and most delicate of flavors fall over the lyne arm"), though I suppose Lamond may simply be using the respect and reverence he feels are due.

It's clear that single malt Scotch is where Lamond's heart lies. That's certainly understandable, but it turns out he wasn't overly careful to be expert about, for example, the history of whiskey in the United States (e.g., "the 'Whiskey Rebellion,' a part of which was the Boston Tea Party," or the uncritical recitation of the blarney about Elijah Craig being "the Father of Bourbon" ).

Scattered throughout the book are short insertions on different aspects of making and drinking whiskey (like the custom of "the morning dram" Samuel Johnson noted), as well as "Words from the Wise" from other well-know whiskeyphiles. The book also features a number of lovely illustrations by Tonwen Jones.

After a few pages on independent (mostly British) bottlers, Whiskey concludes with additional miscellaneous material, includes Lamond's  take on hoarding and investing --
But whiskey is meant to be drunk and enjoyed. It is a gregarious spirit meant for sharing in good company. It is not meant to sit in a bottle and be looked at.
-- a somewhat pro forma set of six cocktail recipes, and lists of whiskey bars, education sources, and societies.

Overall, it's a handy and attractive book, with a lot of information pleasantly arranged. It won't make you an instant expert -- in fact, it could lose you some money if you bet on it being right in every respect -- but it's a good summary of one whiskey expert's opinions on good whiskeys. You could do worse than make a bucket list out of the Expert Essentials, and Whiskey would probably be a particularly welcome gift for an enthusiastic novice to single malts.

(Disclosure: Mine was a free review copy.)

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