Wednesday, 24 November 2010

#391 - The World's Best Whiskies

Surprise! This is the third book review within little more than a month - it would almost seem like this whisky blog has turned in a whisky book blog. But while I've been dramming heavily for the upcoming Malt Maniacs Awards 2010 whisky competition, I didn't have the stomach (or liver) for any additional whisky tastings for my blog at the moment. 

So, it's just a coincidence that three very different whisky books happened to be published this autumn; the expected fresh issue of the Malt Whisky Yearbook (see entry #390 for a small review), Dave Broom's World Atlas of Whisky (entry # 388) and now Dominic Roskrow's "The World's Best Whiskies". Just like with Dave Broom's Atlas, the price is 30.- GBP.

I'll be the first to admit that I've only read (or browsed through) four or five other new whisky books this year, but as far as I'm concerned these three books are the best choices amongst the material that was recently released. Ingvar Ronde's Malt Whisky Yearbook is the odd one out in this trio; the relatively small (168x236mm) soft cover guide costs less than half of the price of the bigger, hard cover books from Dave and Dominic. The yearbook provides plenty of interesting trivia about the malt whisky world and the distilleries in the main whisky countries. That makes it an excellent choice for experienced malt whisky aficionados - but it's not the most practical whisky guide for novices. Because a big chunk of the information doesn't change from year to year, they certainly wouldn't have to replace their copy each year.

The two larger books feel more like investments - and very wise investments too.
Both Dave's World Atlas of Whisky and Dominic's "The World's Best Whiskies" are comparable in price, format and size - much wider, taller and thicker than the yearbook. In fact, both could be described as "tomes"... Both books are very well written and both feature beautiful photography - although the atlas features a lot more more of it than Dominic's book. Both books should provide useful for many years to come as well, because they both offer so much more than their titles suggest...

In fact, in both cases, dozens of pages at the start of the book are dedicated to an in depth treatment of various aspects around the topic of whisky - although the focus is different at times. In Dave's whisky atlas, the focus is arguably a little more on the theory and a structured approach, with particular attention for flavours and the differences in production technique in various countries. Dominic's book leans in a slightly more practical direction with attention for one topic in particular that rarely gets some much deserved attention: the glassware that is used to enjoy the whisky. 

On the other hand: I have one very big beef with Dominic's book; the title suggests that the book features the 750 BEST whiskies. It doesn't - unless you agree that Cutty Sark, Johnnie Walker Red Label, Jack Daniels and Slyrs are amongst the best whiskies in the world. Not a single independent bottling is mentioned in the book - which immediately makes it far less useful for the serious malt afficionado IMHO. Also, you can find so many tasting notes on-line these days that I fear that that aspect of the book might lose its sparkle relatively soon. Also, from what I've read so far, Dominic has tried to cram as much different topics, types of whisky and brands into the book as possible. Combined with the mismatched title, I imagine that this could be confusing for some readers.

Both books are most definitely worth the money.
Considering that you can get BOTH books together for the price of a bottle of Laphroaig 15yo or Macallan 15yo Fine Oak, my advice to serious maltsters out there would be to invest in both whisky books. There is some overlap of the content, but there's often value in comparing different perspectives on the same topic. However, if you HAVE to chose (and you're a fairly experienced whisky afficionado), I'd go with Dave's atlas. It goes a little deeper into a lot of the topics and I imagine it won't age as quickly. 

However, if you are a relative beginner (or if you want to give it as a gift to a potential whisky lover), I'd go with Dominic's book. For one thing, it's the finest looking check list you've ever seen if you're planning a voyage of discovery through whisky land. And here's the best part: I've just checked on the site to add a link where you can buy the book and now I see that the book is already discounted to a friendly £17.25. That's almost half price! And apparently you can even get free delivery in the UK. I'd say that's an excellent opportunity to get a nice gift for Christmas.

As for suggestions for "liquid" gifts: only six more nights until the results of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2010 whisky competition are published...

Sweet drams,

Monday, 8 November 2010

#390 - Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011

A few hours after I had published my glowing review of Dave Broom's "World Atlas of Whisky", I received another eagerly awaited book in my mail box; the 2011 edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook. If you have read my reviews of previous editions you know that I used to like the handy format and the friendly price of this small but useful whisky compendium a lot. 

This year, there are some small changes (for example, the height of the book is 2 millimeters less than previous editions) but the concept has remained mostly unchanged. And that's just as well, because the current format works quite well for me. The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 provides most of the essential details on the distilleries, and it seems that most of the relevant developments of the past year (new bottlings, etc.) are once again covered as well.

The price of the MWYB 2011 is still a paltry 12,95 GBP - which really is a very decent price, given the vast amount of current information on offer. In fact, compared to many whisky magazines, the yearbook offers much better value. Many whisky magazines fill around half of their pages with advertising, advertorials and promotions these days. Of course, many publishers will argue that they need several sources of revenue to make their business model work. That may very well be, but to me it still feels a bit like I'm paying for the privilege of looking at some pretty advertising that's designed to make me spend more money on something than I probably should. Something about that feels a tad masochistic...

Anyway, Ingvar proves every year that you can stuff an incredible amount of malt whisky information (facts, opinions and analysis) in a handy, flexible form for a very fair price. I'd say that you get the equivalent of information to two or three vintages of an average whisky magazine with the Malt Whisky Yearbook. So, should you spend the equivalent of three decent drams in a whisky bar on the Malt Whisky Yearbook ? I think that the question you should really be asking yourself is: "Can you afford NOT to?" 

I mean, it's simple mathematics. It's a well known fact that knowing more about the background of a dram enhances your enjoyment of that whisky considerably. So, let's say you are a mild imbiber and you consume one dram on every day of the week except for Sundays. That's some 300 glasses of whisky per year with an average value of 4 Euro's. That's a total value of 1200 Euro's of whisky per year. If the information in the yearbook increases your enjoyment of every glass by 10% on average, that represents a value of 120 Euro's - almost ten times your investment for the book. Like I said, it's simple mathematics...

Meanwhile, I'm actually a little ahead of schedule with my awards dramming because I feel a common cold breathing down my neck. The problem is that us jurors need to sample some dozen whiskies per day on average, and if you're out of the running for just a few days with a cold, it means you need to pick up the drams you missed later on. So, I'm running around taking vitamin pills and throwing salt over my shoulder - but I may have misinterpreted my grandmother's health advice in this matter ;-). Nevertheless, I'm trying to finish the blind tastings for the Malt Maniacs Awards 2010 as soon as humanly and humanely possible.

Sweet drams,