In global whiskey parlance, the preferred single malts usually are the older ones. In this new and remarkably detailed book, the title makes it obvious something new is being addressed here.
From the handsome cover, replete with raised lettering, no-nonsense information ("more than 325 bottles from 197 distilleries in over 25 countries"), and an admirable lack of frills, to the image of stately aging barrels more than 600 pages later, this collaborative effort is a must-have for anyone serious about whiskies.
In its promotional material, the Kennebunkport, ME, book publisher Cider Mill Press makes some big claims about this offering that includes writing and photography from a wide range of professionals. Things such as "definitive guide," "the only compendium of its kind," "handsome," collectible," and "perfect for whiskey lovers old and new."
I submit that they are underselling it. "The New Single Malt Whiskey" is a masterpiece.
The well-organized book, which leads readers from country to country, is a delight from the start, which includes a scene-setting editor's note from Carlo DeVito, a veteran of the publishing industry, a writer and editor himself of numerous books on drinks and other fun topics, and owner of the Hudson Chatham Winery in Columbia County, NY. Says he, "What is The New Single Malt? More than anything there are two things that help define it. Firstly, it is single malt whiskey made anywhere in the world. It does not need to be made in Scotland. That was the first criteria. The craft movement around the world is striving to compete at the top, most epic level. ... Secondly, [it] is about style as well as place."
In addition to the obligatory tours of such whiskey centers as the U.S., Scotland, Japan, Canada and Ireland, we are led label by label, photo by photo, word by word to places most people probably never think of when it comes to creating fine whiskies. Places like Taiwan, Norway, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Finland.
The 70 or so contributors, some of them such as DeVito -- who wrote the lion's share of the entries, David Wondrich, Ruben Luyten, Eric Asimov and Elizabeth Emmons familiar to whiskey readers -- span a range of experiences as writers, editors, distillers, bloggers, journalists, etc., as big as the range of stories in the book.
As someone who has conceived, edited and co-written a whiskey anthology (shamelesss plug alert! -- "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots," Sterling Epicure) I know the difficulty of corralling a wide variety of writing styles and topics-within-the-topic and putting them into a coherent whole. I salute DeVito and company for succeeding in putting what must have been a seemingly overwhelming amount of information into such an attractive, cohesive package that all self-respecting whiskey aficionados, be they on the creating end or the consuming end, need to have on their bookshelves.
Where else, for example, are you liable to find in one tome the mini-histories and product reviews for whiskies of the Swiss Alps, the Hudson Valley, Scottish islands, England's bucolic Cotswolds region, Austrian wine country, the Frisian coastal region of the Netherlands, and the area of Spain better known for its sherries?
"The New Single Malt Whiskey" is not only for those steeped in whiskey knowledge. It includes entries on the various woods used to age the spirits -- and why American use bourbon barrels dominate; the whiskey glasses used to sample them; an old-school cooperage; and, how to taste whiskies. And, of course, it has a section on whiskey cocktails for those readers who want to put all their knowledge, newfound or otherwise, to use.
I have the feeling if you choose this book as a holiday present for someone in your life who enjoys whiskey, it will be the most appreciated of any gift he or she receives this year.