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Book Review: Whisk(e)y Distilled by Heather Greene

Original cover image provided by Heather Greene and used with permission.

I reviewed the Audible and Kindle editions of Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life and must begin by complimenting the excellent narration of the audiobook version by Tavia Gilbert. It was a pleasure to listen to and I felt like I was in the company of the author throughout. My only issue will be if I ever meet Heather Greene in person as I will no doubt be surprised when her voice does not sound like Tavia’s.

Heather Greene, is one of the most prominent and at times outspoken figures in the world of whisky. She was once a brand ambassador for whisky giant Glenfiddich but at the time of writing this book, was director of whiskey education at the Flat Iron room whiskey school in Manhattan and restaurant sommelier. Heather now writes freelance and travels the world teaching and consulting about spirits and has appeared on television as an expert in the field. Heather writes in a style and voice with a no-bullshit attitude to whisky that instantly appealed to my sentiments and compelled me to read on.

The topic of women and whiskey dominated my conversations so much that some reporters even though my book was about women and whiskey, or written specifically for them. It’s not. This is a book about whiskey. Plain and simple. 

The book begins with how Heather got into whisky in the first place; an industry that many still find surprising to see a woman reach positions of prominence in. Competing with the digital music revolution of the early 2000’s, Heather reluctantly left a professional music career and was hired by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh, Scotland. Despite facing male prejudice regularly, Heather built a lucrative career around whisky. She establishes her credibility early in the book and for me drove home the dream of following your passion and finding a job that you love; something I hope my blog will one day lead to for myself.

Like many books on the subject, Whisk(e)y Distilled covers all the whisky fundamentals, such as history, production and regions with a welcome focus on whisky appreciation. Even detailing how to organise and run your own whisky tasting event. Her explanation of the whisky making process is excellent; one of the best I have read. It is written in a logical sequence and in easy to understand language that anyone could follow.

No palate is the gold standard, and no one tastes quite like you do. 

Heather’s thoughts on how to discover your own palate and the importance of nose and sense of smell were very interesting to read. She also manages to delve into basic organic chemistry and aromatic molecules without losing someone like me with only a modest grasp on the subject. I like how she emphasises the subjectiveness of aroma and taste and that it is ok to disagree. Whisky is a very personal thing and tasting notes should be seen only as a guide not as a ‘gold standard’ or as the correct notes. She discusses nosing technique to maximise the chance of isolating aromas and to minimise alcohol burn and olfactory numbing, without all the wank that often encroaches debates on the subject. 

In fact, Heather’s propensity to tackle the misinformation often touted by whisky snobs and dismiss common myths is welcome and encourages an inclusive whisky culture rather than the rubbish elitist scene that pollutes some social circles; a view that appeals to my own ideals. Regardless if you are not sure what you should or shouldn’t believe or if perhaps you think you already know everything, Heather will set you straight; personally, I learnt quite a few things.

…whisky loving in Scotland is far from snobbery, even if in America those two words—‘Scotch’ and ‘snob’—are often drawn together like magnets. You are more likely to share drams with a local lorry driver finishing his weekly whisky transport down the A1 to Glasgow from Dufftown than with someone holding the latest literary novel or a golf club. 

So who should buy this book and why should you buy this over other books about whisky? A quick search online will reveal that there are many books written on the subject and not all of them are equal. Whisk(e)y Distilled stands above many of the other offerings and managed to engage me from beginning to end. What I loved most about this book was the way it was written. I felt like I was having a chat with the author over a dram; perhaps facing each other from comfy chesterfields in front of a crackling fire. There's a certain contagious energy that someone has when discussing a topic they love and it's rare for that passion to translate to the written word quite as well as Heather manages to do in her book. This may even be my favourite whisky book to date and I highly recommended it for both the whisky novice and aficionado alike.

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