Whisky & Culture

Manual Dexterity

Broom sweeps neat whisky out of the door
By Rob Allanson
Whisky: The Manual Dave Broom

ISBN 9781845337551

Bookclub offer £10.50 plus P&P (RRP £14.99)

If you are one those who believes that whisky should only be drunk neat then this book expels this myth. Dave Broom explains how to drink whisky in all its forms. Not just malts but blends as well, from all over the world. Whisky taken with water, soda, ginger ale and even green tea are all explored.

He describes today's situation as 'The way that most of the new converts to its (whiskies) charms prefer to take it is mixed. It is only in the mature markets where the (actually rather recent) notion that it must be taken neat - and with a grimace - clings tenaciously on.' He then goes on to explode certain myths:

That whisky is old-fashioned: you can picture the scene 'a group of men, tweed suited..be-kilted and picking at their sporrans…' and the same applies to 'Bourbon, just with less tweed and kilts.' It's no longer a grandfather's drink and it's not whisky that's old fashioned it's the attitude towards it.

That whisky is a drink for old men: every new market has as many women drinking whisky as men. The number of women master blenders is increasing and whisky is versatile and for everyone.

That whisky should be drunk neat: how many people have been told not to add water to their whisky and have not questioned this supposition?

That whisky is for after dinner: the author challenges you to partake in a Highball as an ideal pre-dinner drink.

That single malts are better than blends: whisky's growth in new markets is not being led by malts but by blends.

That Scotland makes the best whisky: Scotland makes the best Scotch but it does not make the best whisky. Ignore at your peril the resurgent Irish whiskey or Japanese single malts let alone the whiskies that are coming out of Wales, England, Australia, India, Taiwan, France, Sweden and the growing craft-distilling market in America.

Starting with a history on how whisky has been consumed over the centuries the book moves on to detail the essentials of whisky making where even at its most sophisticated 'it delivers the sgailc (a blow to the head)'.

In order to understand whisky flavour and its enjoyment you have to have a 'basic understanding of how the fusion of elements of earth (grain and peat), water, fire(distillation), and air (maturation) work together in alchemical congress to produce a drink with multiplicity of flavours…' Once you understand the essentials the author moves on to mixing and explains that any time a whisky has achieved popularity it has been when it's been diluted.

Starting with water the author explains that water is 'your friend' and although he does not advocate the use of shovel loads of ice, one or two cubes of hard pure ice will give the right dilution. The reason why water works is because it reduces the alcohol level and kills the whisky's nose burn.

'We like bubbles' opens up the debate on why carbonation of all sorts works from soda water to cola - they all work.

We then come to the most important part of the book How to drink Whisky. The author introduces the reader to his scoring system from 5*, the very best, down to 1, which is to avoid and then tackles (tastes) 102 whiskies in six different ways, on its own, with soda, ginger ale, cola, coconut water or green tea.

Each whisky is allocated a flavour camp and these are very clearly explained and within each flavour camp a series of flavours are detailed.

For instance under Scotch, Irish and Japanese blends you have B1 Light and Fragrant, B2 Fruity and Spicy, B3 Rich and Fruity.

All of the whiskies, importantly, are readily available with proven track records and there are more Scotch blends than malts as the author insists that 'their versatility is discussed' and that 'malt's air of untouchability was confronted.' Looking through the scores what is immediately obvious is that whiskies which score a 5 with one mixer does not necessarily mean that it will work well with another.

If you are looking for a whisky that goes well with all mixers then Johnnie Walker Black Label appears to come out on top with one 5* with Ginger Ale, 5 with soda and coconut water and 3 each for cola or green tea.

Whisky and food is covered briefly before we move on to cocktails where the author remembers, about 10 years ago, organising a whisky cocktail competition for Whisky Live in London. He sensed while judging that whisky lovers were not happy, with eyebrows raised and heads being shaken. Times have changed and 'as the world has woken up to whisky, so it has embraced the whisky cocktail.' Cocktails are less of a leap for Bourbon as this has been 'allowed' to be mixed but it has proved more problematic for Scotch because of assumptions that have grown up around the style. 'Smoke is no longer a barrier, but an asset… Bartenders are today's arbiters of taste.'

If you want to go down the road of starting to use mixers with your whisky then this is the book for you.

Rarely do I read a review where the design of the book is mentioned but this book has been clearly thought out, extremely well designed and with a good use of images and illustrations.

If I have one gripe its been printed in China… come on support British printing.