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Sunday, January 29, 2012

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die (a book)

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton (recently gifted to me by my brother-in-law, Andrew, and sister-in-law-to-be, Leslie) is a well designed, well written, easily consumable (at 225 pages) volume on world whisk(e)y.

On the design side of things, there's the awesome cover (see pic, left), a modernist silhouette version of my imaginary future whisky collection.  The photography within is stellar and even the paper stock is nice and thick.

Buxton has been a major distillery's marketing director, consultant to countless other whisky makers, writer for Whisky Magazine and The Malt Whisky Yearbook, occasional publisher, and runs www.forscotchlovers.com.

In creating the 101 list he polled all of the living whisky greats (writers, distillers, blenders, etc) for their desert island drams to make sure that he had solid outside opinions about the the whiskies in the book.  He notes up front that these are not the 101 best whiskies in the world, but rather well represent the entire whisky world.  He tries to make sure that most of them fall into a reasonable price range and aren't difficult to track down.  Thus, no 1964 Black Bowmores in here.

What makes up the bunch?  By my count:
Scottish Single Malts - 52
Scottish Single Grains - 1
Scottish Blended Malts - 4
Scottish Blended Grains - 1
Scottish Blended Whiskies - 14
Scottish New Make - 1
English Single Malts - 1
Irish Single Malts - 2
Irish Pot Still Whiskies - 2
Irish Blended Whiskies - 1
American Bourbons - 8
American Corn Whiskey - 1
American Wheat Whiskey - 1
American Rye Whiskey - 2
Canadian Single Malts - 1
Japanese Single Malts - 4
Japanese Blended Malts - 1
Japanese Blended Whiskies - 2
Indian Single Malts - 1
Swedish Single Malts - 1

It's a nice spectrum.  The ages range from 1 to 40 years.  The prices from 20GBP to 400GBP (but only a few expensive ones).

His one page write-ups on each whisk(e)y really shine.  He provides nice scoops on each distillery’s location and history, as well as the malt itself.  The succinct recaps also work in Buxton’s analysis of the world whisky market and some informed jabs at whisky fads.  He also freely admits when there's a conflict of interest (read: he worked for the distillery).

I was very impressed that the whisky selection was not determined entirely by his own taste.  He includes important drams that he doesn’t actually like.  It's comforting to see that sort of admission from a major whisky writer.  Sort of like a "Just because I'm not a fan, doesn't mean it's not a good whisky."  For instance, he’s the first whisky writer I’ve seen that’s lukewarm on Ardbeg and Talisker (two of the true Single Malt Grand Cru).  In fact he’s the first whisky lover I’ve ever seen who has that opinion.  Nonetheless he includes two Talis and two ‘Begs (all four of which are delicious, says I) amongst the 101.  But he loves Oban 14 (yay!), which I appreciate greatly since most whisky writers write it off and move on.

Buxton is one of the pros and a decent writer to boot.  His wide knowledge and stellar research fill every page of this compulsively readable book.  I recommend this to whisk(e)y students of all levels.

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