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Tasting Whiskey: An Insider's Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World's Finest Spirits Paperback – October 21, 2014
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"Takes on the whiskey world in down-and-dirty details, from production to tasting. With maps, infographics and flavor profiles for iconic bottlings, alongside Bryson’s smart, straightforward text, Tasting Whiskey is both accessible to novices and compelling for the expert.”
— Wine & Spirits
"Whether you're a novice drinker or a malt connoisseur, Bryson has something to teach you — and you'll enjoy every word."
— Clay Risen, author of American Whiskey, Bourbon and Rye
"An instant whiskey classic that will make all whiskey geeks smarter than their friends."
— Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women
“I shouldn’t say this is the only whiskey book you need but it probably is.”
— Charles K. Cowdery, author of Bourbon, Straight
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Bryson maps the major styles of whiskey, from bourbon to rye to Canadian, from Irish to Scotch to Japanese, and from craft to the various world whiskeys, from growing markets such as India and Taiwan. He describes what sets the various styles apart from one another; so, for example, he details the grains that are in each style, the barrels it's aged in, the climates and warehouses that hold it, and the length of time its aged.
Scotch, for example, is made primarily or exclusively from malted barley; it's aged in used barrels (normally bourbon, but with some sherry and other wine casks tossed in for additional flavor); it ages in a cooler climate that enables longer aging; and it can age for up to 30 years or more without getting too woody.
Bourbon, conversely, is made primarily from corn, with other grains in the mix to add accent flavors; it ages in new oak barrels that impart more woodiness than do scotch's used barrels; it ages in a warmer climate that ages it more rapidly than Scotland's cooler climate; and therefore, it usually reaches its peak at roughly 10-12 years.
Each individual style is different, and Bryson masterfully explains how those differences affect the flavors of the finished product.
Every whiskey drinker starts somewhere. I started with bourbon and moved to scotch and then rye and on to other styles. When I started drinking scotch, I couldn't begin to understand what made it unique until I started reading books that helped me puzzle it all out. Tasting Whiskey is such a book.
Its other strength is the infographics that Bryson uses to illustrate some rather complicated concepts. I write about whiskey, and so I know that it's not always easy to describe, in words, the effects of barrel aging, or how barrel placement in a warehouse affects how quickly or slowly the whiskey ages. Bryson's infographics demonstrate these concepts concisely and thoroughly.
After describing the major styles, Bryson then provides advice on how to drink the stuff, in an enjoyable chapter on water, ice, and cocktails. Is it okay to drink your whiskey with a bit of water? Bryson tells you. On the rocks or neat? He has some answers for that as well. Cocktails? Of course! What I enjoyed about this chapter was how conversational and story-oriented it was. No recipes at all, just a description of how to make a damn good Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
If you're new to whiskey, and you need a friendly guide to the topic, Bryson's book is for you. But if you've been around the block a few times, you'll still find this book to be enjoyable and useful. I learned quite a bit from it.
The treatment is as specific as an academic study, yet Mr. Benson's personality and writing style are so engaging that you feel like you're getting a personal distillery tour. You learn about techniques and factors that affect the product. When you are done, you can make a strategy for exploring what's available so you can find your favorites. (Hint: What you will like the best might not be the oldest or most expensive.) What a terrific resource!
I was more interested in single malt scotch than all the other stuff, but the author covers lots of other bases here. Very interesting.