Whiskypedia: A Compendium of Scottish Whisky – Book Review

I just occurred to me that this is the third book by Charles MacLean that I’ve written about…and I’ve only written about five books total. In my defense, let me just say that the talented Mr. MacLean is somewhat prolific, and that the other two books are basically, sneakily, disappointingly, the same thing. Also, let me just take a moment to assure Mr. MacLean that three posts do not mean that I am stalking him in any sort of way, cyber or otherwise, though if he finds himself in San Francisco…Chuck, hit me up, come over for a dram or two.

Coming out in the latter half of 2010, the Whiskypedia is a somewhat familiar looking medium octavo look at Scotch whisky that is both well worth the price and a little unsatisfying and incomplete. MacLean does his usual excellent, evocative job describing Scotch’s history, this time around including an interesting, more in-depth review of what Scottish whisky was doing in the mid to late 20th century. Then, a quick discussion on the distillery equipment provides a unique take on how our favorite hooch is made.  After this, the remaining majority of the book sets out on an alphabetical journey of just about every Scottish distillery that made it past WWII. It’s here that the book both delights and disappoints. Along with a concise history, for each listing there’s a section on “curiosities”, a description of the distillery’s equipment, where the raw materials come from, and general notes on “current” expressions and the house style. “Current” is in quotes because though the book was published in 2010, the information pretty much stops at 2007. Sure, I have no idea how long it takes to write a book, but it was a bit of a letdown to buy a new book that was nearly three years out of date when it came out. Many now common expressions are nowhere to be found and many listed as current offerings are no longer so. Some books, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible for example, you expect to be current. Others, large coffee table tomes don’t purport to be yearly editions, they’re a bit more timeless. The Whiskypedia with its smaller guide style however, has come out before in 2009, so my expectation here that it be more current.

I do like this book quite a bit, there’s valuable information here and Charles MacLean is an excellent presenter, though at times, his musings on the technical aspects of distillery equipment and whisky-making can be mind-warping (his Dr. Seuss-ian paragraph on Benrinnes’ “partial triple distillation” was a bit much for my feeble brain). I really enjoy the way each distillery is examined, that part alone makes the book worth checking out, I only wish the Whiskypedia was more up to date. I think this book caters more to mildly serious aficionados than to those looking for an introduction, but then it falls a little short by not being current.

(As always…yes, this book is probably available at Amazon, but wouldn’t you rather visit and purchase this book from your local independent bookseller instead?)

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