Hankey Bannister reviews The Whisky Handbook by Dave Broom
I was prompted to review this book after reading a disappointing review in a recent copy of Whisky Magazine. It was unusual to read such a negative book review, so I decided to find out myself about the Whisky handbook.
Firstly, let me get the technicalities out the way. The bulk of the book covers the Scottish malts and then moves onto Irish Whiskey, blends, Bourbon and Canadian style. It also gives details of distillery addresses and tour details. Each distillery is allocated one or two pages which includes tasting notes for every producer. However, describing these facts is dull, so let us get onto why I think should purchase this book.
“This isn’t a tour round every distillery or a tasting guide to every bottle; it aims to find the people behind the production but also those who makes use of technology.” says Mr. Broom. This book does exactly what the author says!
I am currently in the wine trade and own and read many drinks publications. Many of these promise much, but only deliver old comment, which is trussed up in amongst glossy pictures or they become padded with waffle to the point of boredom.
“Whinging – with my reputation!”
No, I’m just stating that Mr. Broom has dealt both refreshingly, and skillfully, with all of these issues. Personally I’m not in favour of reams of tasting notes. I’m more than capable of making up my own mind about what I like and do not need my opinion questioned by supposed experts whose taste I do not know. However, I do find it helpful to have brief reference points. For example, whether a distilleries 8yr old is heavier or lighter than it’s 12yr old etc.
Mr. Broom informs the reader that his tasting notes are not written in stone and encourages us to go out and “enjoy” the whisky. What he does do is create an atmosphere about each distillery through intelligent writing, humour and tales from the workers behind each dram. By doing this he allows the reader the opportunity to almost taste the style of each producer without the need for reams of tasting descriptors.
The handbook also takes on an innovative style of writing by the author who describes each distillery with the use of anecdotes and tales from the people behind the production. This method is also used to detail production techniques and the importance of wider issues such as tourism, tradition and marketing.
I found the text to be greatly enhanced by the cleverly selected photographs, which help to capture the character of each distillery. The book also has an uncanny way of throwing up questions in my mind, then answering them a few pages later. I also found that the use of workers comments is an effective way of breaking up dense factual information about marketing or distillery location.
On the negative side (which I’m only really discussing for garnish!) is that the book is very large for a handbook! If you are endowed with hands like maltster’s shovels reading this book will not be a problem whereas if you are only blessed with beaver lamb paws you may be in trouble. On a more serious note, I felt that Mr. Broom had more to say, but was restricted by the layout of the book.
The Whisky Handbook in my opinion shows a skilful balance between hard fact and almost mythical romance. It is a modern look at a historic subject, which has been enhanced by Mr. Broom allowing the people who matter to speak and not using the book as a vessel for journalistic ego. However it’s not really important what I think, so in the spirit of the author, go out and buy it and form your own opinion!