The holidays are not just a great time to give bottles of whiskey but also books on whiskey.
And books actually make great presents, since they can be bought and mailed. (Shipping bottles can still be quite a headache depending upon where you live.) And over the last decade, there has been a huge surge in the number of spirits and cocktail titles published. There are so many that you no longer could (or would want) to read them all.
So I thought I would share the volumes that I find myself turning to, time after time, looking for information, details, or inspiration. And having written a whiskey book myself a few years ago, I know it’s not an easy thing to pull off. The whiskey drinkers in your life will certainly enjoy these ten titles, which, of course, should be enjoyed with a dram.
The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard
Is Alfred Barnard’s 1887 book, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, too old or outdated? No, it’s still a classic and is still relevant. Barnard visited every whisky distillery in the U.K. (including Ireland) and wrote about each with Victorian attention to mechanical detail. This is not just the birth of whisky writing, it’s a fascinating look at the birth of the modern whisky business. You can pay thousands for an original, $45 for a reprint, or grab the $10 Kindle version (like I did).
American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye by Clay Risen
I was very glad when I found out that Clay Risen is doing regular updates to his excellent book. It offers a survey of the booming American whiskey industry as well as reviews of important bottlings. Bourbon and rye producers have miraculously overcome decades of decline and Risen’s book captures the category’s excitement.
The World Atlas of Whisky by Dave Broom
This is a beautiful coffee-table book, which is lushly illustrated and offers readers an education on how and where whisky is made. But Broom’s colossal talent is in making delicate and subtle details clear and understandable. You’ll feel like an expert after reading his descriptions of the landmark whiskies of each distillery, and you’ll approach your next dram with a new perspective.
The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom
Did I say Broom’s World Atlas of Whisky is a beautiful book? No, this is truly a beautiful book. The Way of Whisky is all about the tradition and history of Japanese whisky and is crafted with a Japanese sense of care and design. It is wonderful to hold in your hands. Open it up, and Broom’s love and deep knowledge of the country’s distillers will fill you with the turn of each page. Japanese whisky is relatively new to the rest of the world, and this fills the gap in our knowledge. Important, and timely. I’m currently re-reading it after my first breathless dash through it.
Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Expert by Davin de Kergommeaux
It is not exaggerating to say that the first edition of Davin de Kergommeaux’s book changed the image of Canadian whisky. He gave roots and substance to what was, for many, simply a label and a price; now Canadian whisky has a heritage, a character, and a place. The first edition opened my mind and palate to Canadian whisky. The new expanded edition features additional scholarship and more distilleries (and whiskies).
Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Scotch Whisky (7th edition) by Dominic Roskrow & Gavin D Smith
I cherish my signed copy of Michael Jackson’s guide to Scotch, but I now usually refer to the recent edition of the book. Jackson’s idea was revolutionary at the time: taste the different expressions of every distillery in Scotland to figure out each one’s unique house character. It’s incredibly useful in helping you to learn what you’re tasting. Since Jackson’s passing, Roskrow and Smith have taken up the torch, and kept it burning brightly. Simply indispensable for the Scotch whisky drinker.
A Glass Apart: Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey by Fionnán O'Connor
I first met Fionnán O’Connor in Ireland at a distillery, where he’d been invited to speak to us about a brand’s history. With a smile, he proceeded to dismantle much of what the company had previously claimed, as the brand ambassador looked on, ruefully nodding. O’Connor, a young academic, employs the same approach on a wider scale here, taking apart myths about Irish whiskey and replacing them with historical facts. It’s possibly the most important whiskey book published in the past five years, and is very much deserving of your attention.
Whiskey Women by Fred Minnick
Fred Minnick has written several books, but none have had the impact of Whiskey Women. The volume explores the often overlooked but vital role that women have played in producing whiskey around the world. It’s an important examination of liquor history and offers a number of profiles of trailblazers. Inspiring.
Whisky Bible by Jim Murray
Jim Murray is a force in whisky writing, publishing a guaranteed global attention-getter each year Every autumn he releases the new edition of his exhaustive compilation of thousands of reviews and announces his whisky of the year. While his opinions are often controversial and certainly always a conversation starter, Murray’s picks are as much about education as celebration, and they’ve done a lot for getting whisky in the news. No other book, no other source has as many authoritative reviews.
Bourbon Empire by Reid Mitenbuler
You may be familiar with the big bourbon distillers of today, but how about the titans who built America’s whiskey industry? Reid Mitenbuler goes back to the beginning to tell the rags-to-riches tale of how bourbon and rye went from an agricultural sideline to a best seller that would create and destroy fortunes, and rise again from a seemingly bottomless decline.