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This review is taken from the London Drinker magazine- and with thanks to Brian Sheridan for writing it. But I guess I’ll never make him a fan of Tom Jones or a Bobby Burns Cocktail.

Haynes Whisky manual

The name of Tim Hampson will be familiar to many as a prolific and award winning writer on beer. In this book, however, he turns his attention to the world of whisky. His book ‘Whisky’ is described as an ‘Enthusiast’s Manual’ and forms part of the series of ‘manuals’ produced by Haynes Publishing.

The book is a wide ranging compendium of information about the spirit which is such a close relative of beer. Topics range from the early history of distilling (possibly going back to the third millennium BCE) to present day developments.

While, inevitably, Scotland and Ireland are given pride of place, the book describes how whisky has become a world drink with production taking place in six continents. There is an informative chapter on the production of whisky – from the malting of barley or other grains, mashing and fermentation to the final stages where fermented liquor (‘wash’) is distilled into spirit. Everything is accompanied by photo-graphs produced to a high standard.

An interesting section is that on recent developments in the industry. There is in effect a ‘craft’ movement which is pushing the boundaries of ingredients, particularly the use of hops. In effect, they are now distilling beer. I have not encountered any of these products yet but the prospect of a distillation made from Duvel, Gouden Carolus or Adnams Broadside is, to say the least, intriguing. The purist may well question whether these products should be called whisky and it may be significant that neither Duvel nor Adnams describe their distillations of beer as ‘whisky’. (Adnams also make two unhopped spirits, a single malt and a mixed grain spirit, both of which they do, perfectly reasonably, call whisky.)

Not having sampled any of these products either, I cannot comment on whether these new developments are real progress or gimmickry but I do wonder just how much of the highly volatile aromatics in hops makes it through to the final spirit and what proportion is discarded in the first running of the still (foreshots) which contains the nasties such as higher alcohols and other congeners.

Inevitably in this day and age, there have to be sections on various accompaniments to whisky. The handful of recipes using whisky (inevitably including that Scottish classic dessert cranachan) sound intriguing and I certainly hope to try them. Whisky cocktails sound a bit doubtful however: mixing whisky with Angostura bitters, Benedictine and red vermouth sounds vile and a waste of the good Speyside malt recommended in the recipe.

Matching food is fair enough but trying to match music to whisky seems a questionable idea. Yet here we have the Speyside distillers Glenlivet suggesting the Average White Band and Alabama Shakes as music to go with their 12 year old malt and Jimi Hendrix as an accompaniment to their 18 year old version. It gets worse: the author himself suggests a Tom Jones song to go with an Islay malt and the offerings of Madonna as something to listen to while drinking a Speyside malt. I half expect certain beer writers to pick up on this idea, so look out for some real absurdities in future!

We can also expect Mr Hampson’s idea of matching beer with chocolate to be taken up by the beer writing fraternity: fair enough – a few squares of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is a good way of taking away the nasty taste of so many microbrewery brews. Occasional silliness aside, this is a book which should interest and inform anyone partial to a dram or two. As a lover and drinker of whisky I certainly learnt a lot, and had one or two misconceptions cleared up.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Whisky – Enthusiasts’ Manual, Haynes Publishing, Sparkford, Yeovil. Email sales@haynes.co.uk or website http://www.haynes.co.uk. 168pp Recommended Retail Price £22.99

Written by timhampson

October 10, 2015 at 6:41 pm

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