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The Whisky Companion - William Grant & Sons, 2004

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The Whisky Companion - William Grant & Sons, 2004

Postby Holysinner » Sat Nov 07, 2009 4:01 am

Note: I'm talking about this privately published book, not a book by the same name by Tom Quinn. I hope I'll be forgiven for not resurrecting this topic, I wanted to get the title in the post subject.

This is a collection of 21 essays by 15 writers, plus a foreword by Michael Jackson. Most of the essays are quite short, several just 2 pages, but the whole manages to be very informative. I think this book is for those with intermediate whisky knowledge, as while it describes the whole of the whisky making process, it doesn't do so in a simple narrative. While there is real depth here, it may not have enough detail for the experts, though I suspect even they might learn something.

Unsurprisingly for a book privately published by William Grant & Sons, The Balvenie and Glenfiddich are most frequently discussed, but it is not solely or even mostly about them. The book considers the Scotch whisky industry as a whole and many other distilleries are mentioned as examples of various practices. There are plenty of beautiful photos, though many are rather small.

MJ's foreword humorously imagines an entrepreneur proposing to bankers a business plan for the modern Scotch whisky industry, were it not already in existence, thereby pointing out its idiosyncratic practices that have arisen through accidents of history.

Particularly interesting for me was the technical detail on the subjects of fermentation (Ian Buxton), copper stills (Jens Tholstrop), cask management (several authors), and grain distilling (John Ross), as well as the history of the patent still (David Stirk). Short, more personal anecdotes from several writers provide unique perspectives as well, and Jim McEwan's was quite moving.

I love this book. I was lucky enough to find it recently in a second hand bookshop, and brought it with me to a Balvenie tasting last week. Andrew Weir (Balvenie Brand Ambassador) recognized it instantly, though it was published before he joined the company. He said he thought it was distributed at various Wm Grant events but never sold at retail, though didn't know how it came about. I see from the earlier topic that it was sold through Wm Grant websites, maybe at their distillery visitor centers also?

I posted this at a certain other whisky forum that I know David Stirk visits in the hopes he might provide additional insights about the book. As I've seen Ian Buxton post here, perhaps I can ask the same of you, Ian? Were the writings commissioned specifically for this work, or is it a collection of essays taken from various sources? Anything else you can add would be welcome. Thanks in advance.
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Re: The Whisky Companion - William Grant & Sons, 2004

Postby Ian Buxton » Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:04 pm

Hi
This is a really nice little book and deserved to be better promoted by Grants.

I was asked to write 2 pieces for it, which I enjoyed, though I don't know how they selected the writers. So far as I know all the pieces are original and have never appeared anywhere else (certainly true for my two). I was never quite sure why Grants did it or what they were trying to achieve but they were quite clear that they didn't ask the authors to plug or promote their brands exclusively, which was far-sighted of them.

I think it was sold in the visitor centre at Glenfiddich. They could do worse than re-publish it and sell it more widely...perhaps I'll suggest that to them!

A year or so ago they asked me to write the Introduction to the annual review of their contemporary artists in residence programme, which was fascinating.

Thanks for your kind comments,

Ian
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Re: The Whisky Companion - William Grant & Sons, 2004

Postby Holysinner » Mon Nov 09, 2009 2:02 am

Thank you Ian, that's great information! Your comments are much appreciated.

I agree it deserves wider distribution. Unlike books chock full of tasting notes, this won't have gone out of date as it concerns the process of making whisky, along with personal reflections from those working in the industry. A very worthwhile read for those who can find it; I learned a great deal from it.
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