I’ve had a couple of these Eyewitness Companions books with me on trips before and have always found them to be pretty useful. They’re not a Frommer’s, Paris-on-$3.58-a-day type book, nor are they very detailed literary accounts on select places/things. They offer short, descriptive entries on a wide variety of topics, giving an excellent overview using key historical facts, general travel-type info, color pictures, diagrams and maps.
With Charles MacLean acting as editor-in-chief, the Whiskey guide in this series does lean a bit towards a reader interested in travelling around to many, many…many distilleries, but it’s also a decent intro/general overview of the entire world of whisky…er…whiskey. It begins with a concise section on whisky making, its ingredients, processes, and whisky tasting and then launches into 250 small-type pages describing a fair majority of the distilleries and whiskies out in the world today. The entries for each are short, giving brief histories, light contact info, and occasionally, some short, general, non-scored tasting notes.
Other than the fact that all the 18th century Scotch makers seemingly all were named John and had similar last names (makes keeping track of the larger picture a bit tough), it’s great to get such quick hits on the histories of so many distilleries as well some colorful stories (Laphroaig’s owner falling into a vat of whisky and drowning in 1846). Some of the larger names and events (Macallan, Jameson, Prohibition) get more in-depth sidebars. Scattered throughout are great pictures of distilleries, advertising bottles, maps, and a few cocktail recipes. For me, one of the most valuable parts of the book is the extensive section on blended malts because it often describes which whiskies go into each blend.
This is not an earth-shattering tome by any means, there are not detailed notes on obscure bottlings, no poetic treatises on the use of virgin Spanish oak harvested by monks riding trained ibex (Capra Pyrenaica) and no judgements passed on whiskies being made outside the vaunted elite’s purview. It’s a handy, quick-reference guide, useful at home and while out wandering the world in search of the next free dram from a distillery tour.
(As always…yes, this book is probably available at Amazon, but if you have the time and money, please visit and purchase this book from your local independent bookseller instead.)