Limited expressions

Limited expressions

Neil Wilson casts his eye over some recent reissues of classic whisky books

Whisky & Culture 16 Sep 2001 | Interviews | By Neil Wilson

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I was chatting the other day with Charlie MacLean. He had been looking at the publishing of whisky books since 1645 and come up with some remarkable figures. Up until 1970, only 38 titles on whisky had ever been published on whisky but between 1970 and 1990 over 80 new whisky titles were produced. Even today, the rare antiquarian volumes are extremely hard to find and in some instances, well nigh impossible. In the late 1980s it was still difficult to source more than a dozen or so meaningful, contemporary works on the subject, whereas the market today appears flooded with ‘cut and paste’ whisky books many of which have been produced as large full-colour books designed to be printed as foreign languages co-editions to lower costs. Those old, antiquarian volumes were the real trailblazers for this vast increase in interest and any whisky bibliophile of the late 1980s would be very fortunate indeed to own a classic such as Nettleton’s The Manufacture of Spirit as Conducted at the Various Distilleries of the United Kingdom (1898 and 1913). More likely titles would have been The Schweppes Guide to Scotch by Phillip Morrice (1983), The Whisky Roads of Scotland by Derek Cooper and Fay Godwin (1982), the first three editions of The Malt Whisky Almanac by Wallace Milroy (1986-1989), Scotch Whisky by David Daiches (1969), The Whiskies of Scotland by RJS McDowall (1967), a recent updated edition of Scotch by Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, A Taste of Scotch by Derek Cooper (1989), Michael Jackson’s World Guide To Whisky (1987), Scotch and Water by yours truly (1985), The Whisky Barons by Allen Andrews (1977), Illicit Scotch by SW Sillett (1965) and Scotch: Its History and Romance by Ross Wilson (1973). Unfortunately, the opportunity to get a copy of Samuel Morewood’s gloriously titled A Philosophical and Statistical History of the Inventions and Customs of Ancient and Modern nations in the Manufacture and Use of Inebriating Liquors (1938) would probably never have presented itself.But there were two classic publications that would have been deemed absolutely essential to any whisky bibliophile: The Making of Scotch Whisky by Michael Moss and John R Hume (1981) and the centenary edition of Alfred Barnard’s The Whisky Distilleries of The United Kingdom, first published in 1887, reissued in 1969 and reissued again in 1987 with an introduction by Michael Moss and a foreword by David Daiches. The latter has become the bible for whisky historians and devotees not least because Barnard achieved over 100 years ago what many whisky tourists can only dream of doing today. On publication Moss and Hume’s substantial work of research achieved a similar status and was widely received as a milestone in whisky literature. But both books suffered the same fate: their original editions were printed only once. Harpers, the wine and spirit trade gazetteers, who published Barnard’s book, never reprinted and when an edition turns up the price achieved can be breathtaking (Laphroaig’s Iain Henderson has a copy tucked away!).As Barnard died in 1919, under the 50-year copyright laws in existence at the time, David and Charles of Newton Abbot produced a facsimile edition in 1969 which I believe was priced around £15. This edition also sold out quickly as the latent demand for the book was soaked up, but D&C also did not bother to reprint. During the 1970s and early 80s more demand built up and a centenary edition was co-published by Mainstream of Edinburgh and Lochar of Moffat. That edition ran to 2500 copies at £20 and was sold out within one year. Second hand copies of this edition change hands for over £100 but a new facsimile edition has just been released by Rasch Edition, an academic press based in Germany. Barnard’s opus is unique in that it set in aspic the state of the industry as it entered the booming late-Victorian era, a time when many Speyside distilleries were being established. It was also fully illustrated with etchings made from glass plate photographs which have been lost or destroyed. It also served as a valuable social document of its time and Barnard’s prose betrays nothing of the fact that he was an advertising agent to the trade. Barnard’s book remains beyond criticism as nothing of its ilk existed at the time and only Philip Morrice’s effort to mark the centenary of publication by doing Barnard’s trip all over again has come close to creating something similar. Harpers also published Morrice’s volume, but it was a subscription only publication and was wildly overpriced. In total Barnard visited 129 distilleries in Scotland, 29 in Ireland and four in England with an illustration for almost every one of them. His auditing of distillery plant was immaculate, shown in part of his entry for Bowmore.“...our guide directed our steps to the old Tun Room, 57 feet long by 17 and a half feet broad, on the same level, which contains six other Washbacks holding respectively 6,101; 5,973; 6,108; 6,171; 5,996 and 6,006 gallons...”
But it was his observance of the social conditions of his time that gives the book such authority. When he visited
Campbeltown, he didn’t miss a trick.“Sunday in Campbeltown is carried to its Jewish length, and is quite a day of gloom and penance ... Neither music nor whistling is allowed in either the houses or streets and the landlady of the hotel was quite shocked at our proposing to play some sacred music on the piano.”Thanks to Rasch, Barnard’s work is available again (priced at 69DM or £20) and we are the richer for it. A limited quantity of 1500 copies has been printed so get your orders in now.The Making of Scotch Whisky is an entirely different animal. It has been unavailable for 20 years and again unmarked editions command keen prices. This book was unique in 1981 in that, although it mirrored Barnard’s efforts to record the state of the industry, it gave comprehensive listings of defunct distilleries and chapters on the history of Scotch and its production processes. The first edition was fully illustrated and it is this aspect which spoils the new Canongate edition.The publishers have gone to much trouble to reset the entire work (as the original reprographic plant no longer exists) but they have chosen to stick with the original illustrations. No great matter for the archival aspects of the book, but an opportunity has been missed to bring the contemporary aspects of the work up to date. The chapter on the manufacture of whisky is illustrated with the original pictures from the 1970s, many of them hopelessly out of date. There are other inconsistencies which suggest that not enough care has been taken with regard to captions. For example, page 209 gives the impression that Glenugie Distillery is still standing and is licensed to Long John Distillers. The most glaring is on page 192 showing the stillhouse at Bladnoch which is apparently owned by Inver House Distillers Ltd. I wonder how Raymond Armstrong, the man who has singlehandedly revived Bladnoch feels about that. But I do not mean to demean this work or begrudge Moss and Hume their place in whisky lore for having undertaken such a monumental piece of research in the first place. The excellent indexes have been updated and the new list of known distilleries by date is a great addition. It’s just such a pity that more care and preparation has not gone into the final production.It is good that both of these fine books are available again and I would make sure of getting them onto that bookshelf as soon as possible.
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