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,