A while ago I was contacted by Canadian author Mark Bylok if I was interested in a review copy of his book “The Whisky Cabinet”. New whisky books are always interesting to look at, so I agreed.
The concept of “The Whisky Cabinet” is what might best be described as a condensed wide-angle look on whisky. On almost 190 pages it covers the basics of whisky production and maturation and gives an overview of whisky distilleries form all over the world. Unfortunately the selection of distilleries described is limited, probably because of space constraints. Only 30 Scottish distilleries are listed, for example.
The layout is clean and modern with many pictures (some of which are a bit too much on the “low key” side for my taste), but you cannot really call it a coffee table book. The text remains in the focus.
Of course there are already plenty of whisky books on the market that cover the same subject. After all, the number of potential buyers for a book about whisky basics is substantially higher than for a book that is only of interest for geeks.
To give this book an individual twist, Mark Bylok has also devoted some space to describe current trends in the whisky industry like No Age Statement or White Whisky. As the name of the book suggests, there is also a section on how to build one’s whisky cabinet. Spread among all sections of the book there are many other bits of information which makes it a good read overall.
Many of the whisky books I have read contain errors or inaccuracies. Sometimes they are caused by the authors’ lack of in-depth knowledge, sometimes by the need to keep it short and sometimes also by sloppy editing.
Unfortunately this book is not free from such blunders either. For example Compass Box is listed as a distillery, just like Nikka whose Yoichi distillery is listed as a brand only. Another example is the history of Johnnie Walker which the book states was owned by Guinness (correct, indirectly via DCL) and then purchased by Diageo. This is inncorrect. Diageo was created by a merger of Guinness with Grand Metropolitan which included quite a bit of brand reshuffling via UD and UDV, but Johnnie Walker has always remained in the conglomerate.
The section on maturation contains a few factual errors. Maturation is described as a combination of oxidation and evaporation. Oxidation itself is described as interaction of the spirit with the wood: “The oak then oxidizes, leaving vanilla notes behind in the barrel.” No, this is extraction, no oxidation. Oxidation simply is the interaction of the spirit with the surrounding air, most of which happens inside the barrel after some evaporation has taken place.
The vanilla notes come from charring the barrel which is done not to increase the surface area of the wood as stated in the book but because the heat of the fire induces chemical recations which create flavour compounds such as vanillin from the wood.
A final example is the statement that bourbon requires a shorter maturation time than Scotch because it is corn based as opposed to the barley based malt whisky. The correct reason can actually be found in the book, some pages later: “Colder climates need longer aging to extract similar flavours.”
I hope the errors will be addressed in a thorough edit. Then “The Whisky Cabinet” will be an excellent introductory whisky book.