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John Lamond: Whiskey – Instant Expert – Book Review

by Oliver Klimek on October 1, 2013

In the “Instant Expert” book series of US based publishers Princeton Architectural Press, the Scottish whisky expert John Lamond has contributed a title about whisky (using American spelling due to the location of the publishers).

The small bound pocket book has 144 pages and is essentially an introduction to whisky for novices. It begins with a short round-up of whisky basics like production and classsification of whisky types as well as thoughts on glassware and matching whisky with food.

The largest part of the book is devoted to presenting a selection of international whisky distilleries with an obvious emphasis on Scotland and USA. The distilleries are described in a short introduction, and then one selected bottling for each is presented with tasting notes. A selection of independent bottlers is included as well.

A section named “Possess” concludes the book, consisting of an eclectic mix of further information and advice about whisky: buying, storage, influence of casks or a selection of whisky bars to name a few.

The novice reader should be warned that “Instant Expert” is a promise this small book is unable to fulfill. Unless you define “expert” as “knowing more than an utter noob”. Too much is there to know about whisky that can not be addressed here. I have no idea how the other books of this range try to take on that bold task, but the title of the series appears to be not more than an attention grabber.

Throughout the book you can notice the wish or need to squeeze in as much as possible into the limited space, and this is not helped by the rather spacious layout. Unfortunately this goes along with quite a few informations being inaccurate and sometimes plain wrong. To list a few examples:

  • “Grain whiskey: Contains unmalted barley or other malted and unmalted grains” – No, it has to include malted barley (assuming the Scottish definition).
  • “Irish whiskey is triple distilled” – Not necessarily, see Cooley
  • “Bourbon must be matured in new, charred white oak barrels for two years” – No, only Straight Bourbon must be matured for two years (or more).
  • Redbreast Irish whiskey is listed as blend. It is a single pot still.

John Lamond gives highly lauded courses on whisky, and he is also a Keeper of the Quaich. I don’t know if these blunders are genuine errors or were caused by bad editing. But in effect they make the book only limitedly recommendable, in particular as it addresses novices who very likely will not notice them.

Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

R.C. October 1, 2013 at 11:10 pm

So many of your postings only focus on very negative things. Why is that?

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Oliver Klimek October 2, 2013 at 5:49 am

I received this book for review and I found that it was less than perfect. Why should I rave about it then? Because I got it for free?

Honestly, what you get here is my honest view of things which you may like or not. Why are there so many “negative” posts here? Because I think these points neeed to be addressed. You might just as well ask the question the other way around “Why do so many whisky blogs only focus on positive things?”

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Chris Miles October 2, 2013 at 1:31 am

Where does it say that grain whisky must contain malted barley? Malted Barley is used (or may not be used) as an enzyme to start the reaction. I believe commercial enzymes are also used.

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Oliver Klimek October 2, 2013 at 5:59 am

In the book, the definition of grain whisky is included with the other Scotch types like Blended Malt and Single Malt so I think it is safe to assume John Lamond refers to Scotch grain whisky here.

Here is a quote grom the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009:

““Scotch Whisky” means a whisky produced in Scotland—

(a)that has been distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been—

(i)processed at that distillery into a mash;
(ii)converted at that distillery into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
(iii)fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;”

Further down grain whisky is defined as any Scotch that is neither blend nor single malt:

“Single Grain Scotch Whisky” means a Scotch Whisky that has been distilled at a single distillery except—
(a) Single Malt Scotch Whisky; or
(b) a Blended Scotch Whisky; ”

Which of course is confusing because blended whisky already includes grain whisky.

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Chris Miles October 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Oliver,

Does that not point to some ambiguity in the regulations then rather that what is actually the case?

From what I have researched, malted barley is only used in grain whisky production (at 10% roughly) as it acts as a catalyst, rather then because it is regarded as an integral component of the Whisky makeup? I have also read some anecdotal evidence in some Scottish academical papers that commercial enzymes are also used as the catalyst.

I guess it is maybe worth sending a few emails to find out as I am genuinely interested.

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Oliver Klimek October 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Maybe the enzyme thing is new in the 2009 regulations. I have not checked the previous version, but the current regulations are very clear that all enzmyes have to be provided by the grains in the mash.

Malted barley is used in grain whisky exactly for this purpose, to supply the enzymes that can transform the starch into sugars. It must be used and it is used, so I see no ambiguity here.

For the same reason also bourbon is made with a small amount of malted barley. Under the Scotch regulations it would have to be called grain whisky too.

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John Lamond April 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Hi Oliver (and Chris),
I don’t know what edition you are looking at, the definition of Grain in Instant Expert is “Grain whisky will often use a mix of malted and unmalted barley and other grains such as maize, rye or wheat (Page 14). As you also say, the book is small, The publisher has attempted to squeeze a litre into a pint pot.
I agree, Redbreast is wrongly listed – there was quite a tight deadline and I had to fit a family holiday into the timespan as well.
If you look at page 73, you will see more complete regs for Bourbon.
My apologies, I forgot about Cooley.
The book was published in Europe as Le Snob Whisky, the Americans decided on that title, I don’t like it.
When I agreed to do it, I didn’t read the contract properly. I submitted the first section, the intro and all was ok, I submitted the second section, Scotch and the publisher said, “Whoa, whoa!”
I said, “What?”
They came back with, “That’s 127 pages.”
I said, “Yes. And?”
They said, “The book’s only 144 pages.”
I said, “Oh…”

As to the malted barley in Grain Whisky or Bourbon production, it is used because it kicks off the enzyme action. If the malted barley wasn’t there, the enzyme action would start – eventually and more slowly. The inclusion of malted barley gives the distiller a reliable conversion in a reasonable time.
The line about “endogenous enzyme systems” was in previous legislation as well, at least as far back as 1966. Which academical papaers have you read with commercial enzymes being used Chris? The SWA wouldn’t allow it, with the regulations clearly stating that only water, grain and yeast can be used.

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Oliver Klimek April 21, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Thank you for taking the time to comment, John. With regard to the whisky types, I was quoting the list on page 18. But the sentence on page 14 which you quote can also be understood in a way that malted barley is not required for Scotch grain whisky because of the phrase “…will often use a mix of malted barley… “. This would imply the possibility that in other cases malted barley might not be used.

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John Lamond April 21, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Yes, I see that I have not been as precise as I should have. I also see that Instant Expert has a different layout from Le Snob. Thanks for that, obviously I hadn’t noticed before.

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