Sometimes good things come in small packages. And more rarely, a great thing arrives in a small package.
The Pocket Guide to Whisky is small, at only 144 pages. And it is that rare great book that you will treasure.
The subtitle to this book says it features The Whisky Tubemap. That feature is what makes this book intriguing and exceptionally informative.
Whisky or whiskey? Author Blair Bowman is British so we go with the Scottish spelling. Tubemap or subway map? Again, this is a British book so I will be talking about the tube and the tubemap.
That map is more that just a feature. It is the spinal cord of this guide to the world of whiskey. Blair has created a fantasy tube — or subway for us Americans — that covers the breadth of our whisky world. This is not a physical geography map. It is a “flavor map of whiskey, organizing styles, types and specific brands from around the world by taste ad texture rather than by geography.”
So each tube line has a particular flavor theme that links all the whiskies together. Each “station” on a line can represent a particular individual whiskey or type of whisky. As you pass down the line, you encounter more intense versions of that flavor. Where two lines intersect, you get a whisky with two or more distinctive flavor elements.
Traveling down a line, you can be in Scotland at one station, and Japan the next. It’s all about flavor, regardless of whether the distillery is in Europe, North America, or Asia.
To help you get started, the primary tube line is called the Heart Line, devoted to the essence of what we would all call whisky. Here you find the pure whisky flavors that we immediately recognize. And, to get you started, Blair suggests you begin with a classic: his first station is Johnnie Walker. Traveling down the Heart Line and you discover either old friends of yours or new drinking companions:
The Famous Grouse — the bestselling whisky in Scotland
Dewar’s — the top seller in the USA
Auchentoshan — a gem created just outside Glasgow
Hibiki — a Japanese blend
And on down the line to a whole class:
Single Pot Still from Ireland — with members like Redbreast, Green Spot and Midleton
What do I love about this book besides all these liquid journeys? For thing, this books saves me embarrassment. That whisky listed above, the Auchentoshan? Just how do you pronounce that? It’s Oc-En-Tosh-An. There’s a phonetic spelling for every whisky mentioned here. And if you do not happen to be Scottish, well, it’s a life saver when you are asking for it in the liquor store.
Better yet, this book just destroys some old myths. Want a great whisky? Well, it has to dark colored, old, and pricey. Right? No, not at all. Greatness is found in the hands of the distiller And there are great distillers all around the world now. So you can find magnificence in the USA or Japan just as well as in Scotland or Ireland. Color is not a defining factor. Young can be a grand as old. And a high price is not mandatory at all for high tasting experience.
You do, though, have to drink your whisky. Once you open a bottle, it should be consumed within a couple of years. Oxygen takes its toll on an open bottle, so you need to enjoy life and your whisky a little more.
The world of whisky, just like the world of wine, is vast and complex. You need a map. The Pocket Guide to Whiskey is just that map. And no finer one exists.
It is a small book. But you’ll spend many hours exploring its pages and sipping its rewards.