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Book Review: Tasting Whiskey by Lew Bryson

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Cover photography by © Keller + Keller Photography, taken from Tasting Whiskey, © by Lewis M. Bryson, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

You know you are really getting into something when you go looking for books on the subject. Not long ago, books were the only way to ‘lean stuff’ and my kids will never know the joy of owning a whole bookcase’s worth of dusty outdated encyclopaedias. Thanks to the invention of the Internet and the cementing of the word ‘google’ into the English language, most of us now turn to the Internet first when seeking information on any given subject. I think it would be safe to assume that since you are reading this post, on the Internet, that you fall into that group. But there are times when only a good tree-killing book will do and if you are looking for a great one on the topic of whisky/whiskey, look no further than, Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits by Lew Bryson.

Lew Bryson is an American author and journalist who has written professionally about beer and spirits since 1995, including a 19-year stint as Managing Editor of Whisky Advocate magazine and maintains a blog called Through the Glass (link in the Blogroll at the bottom of the page). Tasting Whiskey was the first serious book that I read on the subject of whisky and I found it to be an excellent primer for beginning my whisky journey. Almost the entire first half of the book is dedicated to explaining how whisky came to be, what it is, how it is made and a detailed breakdown of where the unique flavours and characteristics of various whiskies come from. The remainder of the book covers the main whisky regions of Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada and Japan. Lastly, the final few chapters cover craft whiskies, mixers and cocktails, matching whisky with food and collecting whisky.

This book touches on everything you could ever want to know about whisky and will satisfy all but the most studious of whisky enthusiasts. 

One of the things I like most about this book is the author’s acceptance of all things whisky and his resistance to judge anyone on their choice of drink or how they choose to drink it. He often states that it is your drink and your right to drink it any way you please. It is a refreshing break from some self-proclaimed whisky experts who can be very judgemental in their opinion of the right and wrong way to drink whisky and are quick to place some whisky on a pedestal and completely ignore others. Lew Bryson’s attitude for whisky acceptance and experiencing the broadest sample as possible, aligns perfectly with my own attitude and that of this blog.

Since deciding to become serious about my whisky drinking, I have read a few books and countless web pages on the topic but I am yet to find a better explanation about the whisky making process than this book. Lew has a skill for breaking down complex processes into easy to understand components and then giving a detailed yet straightforward description of how all these pieces come together. The parts about the chemistry of whisky ageing and the creation of aromatic esters for example, didn’t confuse my non-chemist brain but instead sparked my interest enough to research more on the topic.

This book touches on everything you could ever want to know about whisky and will satisfy all but the most studious of whisky enthusiasts. This is the book that I recommend to everyone I meet who is interested in whisky and would like to learn more. Tasting Whiskey is informative, easy to read and understand and a perfect gift for the whisky fan in your life. 


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