Jolly Toper Tastings


Book Reviews

Here is one man’s opinions of a, hopefully, growing list of titles chosen randomly from my shelves. There is a visual record of these books over at the Jolly Toper Facebook page.

Whisky, Dorling Kindersley, Eyewitness Companion series, editor-in-chief Charles Maclean, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4053-2814-2, £12.99

Contributions from Dave Broom, Tom Bruce-Gardyne, Ulf Buxrud, Ian Buxton, Glenn Gillen, Peter Mulryan, Hans Offringa, Dominic Roskrow and Gavin D. Smith. An all round good egg. The compact size doesn’t detract from the quality images although any smaller text may prove challenging to the less than eagle eyed. The who’s who of authors means a clash of style between writer and reader is not so threatening. The format after concise yet helpful introductory pages covering the essentials is to move through the producing nations cataloguing individual distilleries. Important brands are also reviewed and a profile of the history and destinction of each country opens each chapter. Seldom is personal opinion offered and the prose style of detailing features of a still/bottling is easier than the more typical bullet point list of still size, founding date, etc.

Happily time is spent mentioning those distilleries not to be found in the traditional whisky producing nations. The rising interest in and quality of distillers big and small from the most unlikely corners of the globe (I don’t actually think a globe has corners but you know what I mean) is certainly due attention.

All in all this book is easy to recommend, the sensible price is little to pay for the huge amount of information which is as up to date as any source off the web. Particularly meritous is the light shed on non- Scottish and Irish producers. A sector often neglected with difficulty experienced in finding out even the most basic information. Next to company like Malt Whisky Yearbook this title rates as a recommendation if someone is to have only one title on their shelf.

Now here is something to compare the above to.

Need To Know? – Whiskies, Dominic Roskrow, 2008, Collins, 978-0-00-726164-2, £9.99

If you have a couple of decent books on your shelf then this is more ‘No Need To’ rather than ‘Need To Know’. However it is a competent round up of Scottish single malts with a nod towards other styles and countries. So if your looking for a book as a gift to the malt curious then this one doesn’t go in too deep and would be fine as an introduction.

And now what I believe to be an exclusive scoop, the first review of:-

Bottled History – feints, fellows and photographs, Ian Macilwain, Envisage Books, 2009, 978 0 9541011 6 9

However many books you’ve got on your shelf you’ll not have one quite like this. The author has turned his hand to photography and this is the product of his new direction and one of his passions – whisky. Nothing new there perhaps but here the view is not of the oft seen gleaming stills and snow covered pagodas. A career in psychiatry may allude to the author’s interest in what lies under the surface. The large format book has about sixty images of the underbelly of the industry. Rusty machinery and disused buildings are captured to present a picture of life behind the scenes at some of the well known stills as well lesser spotted names.

Helping to visualise by-gone days are comments taken from retired staff. There is also a description of the distillery and the picture at the back of the book. The project took five years to complete and the photographs chosen out of the 5ooo taken have artistic merit as well as historic and technical interest. Without a printed price its difficult to comment on value but this will surely be priced about the same point as other recent similarly proportioned publications like the Rare Malts, Laphroaig and Ardbeg biographies. One for the serious whisky buff.

It took me 4 years 11 months to get round to reading this one…

25 Years of The Mini Bottle Club, edited and compiled by Jacky Drake, foreword by Jim Murray, printed by Octoprint, Chippenham, Wiltshire, 0-9547435-0-4, April 2004, £17.95

At 360 pages this is not a thin memorial gesture to a club’s anniversary. Rather it is a testament to passion and enthusiasm as well as a record of the bottled drinks industry’s production of sample sizes. To some the world of collecting is unfathomable, the fascination of a discipline to the point of near obsession can appear perverse. However surely we all collect something, even if it is unconsciously. Be it memories or facts we all need to store references. For some this spills over into recreation in the shape of a hobby. Here is a collection of some individuals’ years of searching, commitment and fulfillment. Nearly 50 entries detail member’s pursuits which range from the obvious, Scotch whisky miniature bottles, to the more particular, glass-blown animals. In between the passages focusing on member’s specialities there are sections concentrating on related aspects of the world of drink production and the nature and history of the club.

How much general appeal the title has is uncertain but on the whole it is a charming insight into the psychologist’s picnic that is the past time of hunting and gathering. If you’re visiting this site its because you have an interest in whisky, many of the contributors to this book have the same view. It is in the entries focusing on whisky related collections that you may find some insightful knowledge. For example the research into the history of the Thornes brand is a valuable refernce to a lost branch on the family tree of Scotch whisky companies.

Certainly the editing may have been tighter with many grammatic errors suggesting a casual approach. But this is part of the whole, the substance more important than the presentation. Otherwise what must have been done on a marginal budget, adverts appear as evidence of sponsorship – usually from retailers that must have benefitted from the patronage of club members to quite some extent, remains a generally good humoured addition to the more serious library.

Just finished this:-

Whisky, the water of life, Margaret Briggs, 2009, Bookmart Limited for Lomond Books Ltd., 978-1-84204-185-7

From the introduction this book sets out it’s stall. The author confesses to being a whisky tasting novice. This could have been a unique opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. However as the pages turned this reader’s patience thinned then gave in. Lomond have given us at least two creditable whisky titles. With this latest contribution their name as a source of recommendable publications will need some defending. According to the book Ardmore was built in 1989, Lord of the Isles is issued by Glen Grant, Brora dates from 1896, no distillery malts all its own barley by hand, Teaninich has two distilleries on site. Both Johnnie Walker and Ballantines get repeatedly misspelt. Tomatin has 23 stills, Port Charlotte is Islay’s ninth distillery and you should check out the Scotch Malt Whisky Association ( based at the Vaults in Leith (coincidently the same home as The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Some distilleries have a capacity marked ‘Not Applicable’. The author’s definition of cask strength makes no sense, I’m not sure of what is meant when Glen Goyne is named as the first Highland distillery and when returning from the spelling ‘whiskey’ to ‘whisky’ is saying ‘back to English’ appropriate?

There is a good list of European distilleries and their websites but can one be confident the addresses are accurate? Also a passage on health issues is genuinely interesting, especially as this topic is rarely, if ever, mentioned. A price of £6.99 printed on the reverse is updated to £2.99 on a sticker on the front cover. This discounting is not an unfamiliar tool for the publishers but I do wonder if this reduction is in some way a gesture reflecting the bargain basement nature of the contents. With so many titles to choose from there is no place for a publication of this quality on shop shelves.

Yesterday I completed an aerial assault course one hundred feet above concrete. My heart was pounding and my legs shaking, I wanted to get the experience over as quick as possible. When finished I was pleased I had managed the challenge and felt better for the experience. Quite a parallel for reading this book. Except the danger of the assault course was only percieved as I was securely strapped to a safety harness. We all make mistakes, thats okay, but sooner or later we make too many little ones or a couple of big ones, thats not so good.