Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book Review: MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky

A few months ago I tweeted a request for recommended books to read. This one wasn't on anyone's list but in my search for the books that were mentioned it kept popping up and so when I found it on Ebay for a song (less than a pint of Guinness, delivered) it certainly seemed worth the punt.

This is not a new book by any means and it may even be out of print. My copy says it was first published in 2004, long before I started my whisky journey. However, I really wish someone had told me about this book earlier.

Here is my review of MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky, by Charles MacLean. 

I had of course heard of Charles MacLean when I bought this book, by then I was well into my third year of the journey when I picked it up. I knew that he was involved with Wemyss Malts, and also was enjoying the status of movie star following the release of the excellent film by Ken Loach 'Angels Share'. Then while I was about halfway through the book I got the opportunity to meet Charles at a press launch in London just before The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show last October.

I've really enjoyed reading this book, my only gripe being the size, as it is comparable to an A6 notebook but twice the thickness. It made it a little unyielding for my fat fingers! I'm not going to moan about the poetry in the book because I never 'got' it when I was a lad. I still don't care for it much now. I know to some of you that might seem blasphemous and while I would never ridicule a poet, it’s just not my thing. I did at least try to read the excerpts from Robert Burns, honest, but don't let this put you off reading this book as there are loads in it that will both educate and entertain especially if you are a newbie in the world of Whisky like me.

As Charles states in his introduction, a miscellany is defined as “a mixture of writings on different subjects, or by different authors.” This is neither, but it is a mixture of topics broadly related to the subject of Scotch Whisky intertwined with some of his favourite quotations about the same subject.
In this book, he has poured a lifetime's love and knowledge of Scotch whisky giving the reader a sound foundation in what is needed to know and appreciate about Scotland's most generous gift to the world and arguably the world's finest spirit.

Twenty chapters takes you through a short history about Whisky. Starting with its definition and origin of what we know whisky to be today as well as a quick look at the the other major whisky makers (at the time of writing) Ireland, America, Canada and Japan.

If you ever wanted to find out about 'proof' it’s all explained in this book (if you were born after 1980 you may be wondering what I'm talking about). The entire process is explained from water to barley varieties, albeit that time again has moved on and current strains will certainly be different since the original publication date, but the history is there. If you are just starting your whisky journey this is a great little book that answers so many questions. The chapters are wide ranging but are easily digested. The reader can pick up, delve into at any point and there is no need to read it in chronological order.

As I mentioned earlier I've really enjoyed reading this and I'm glad it is part of my whisky shelf. I will continue to pick it up to re-read chapters from time to time, and will even have another bash at trying to enjoy the poetry!

If it's not in your Whisky Library now, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy quickly!

Sláinte! Dave.
A word of thanks also to @whiskylassie for proofreading this post and correcting a few things for me.

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