I was invited to review "The Smart Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky" by Elizabeth Riley Bell. I couldn't wait to delve into the intricacies of the libation of Scotland, particularly through the guided hands of the noted leading female voice in the predominantly male field of expertise.
When learning about a new topic/interest, I like to start with words..no great shock I'm sure...and entering the Scotch world to learn, taste (and spit) I find the confusion starts at the very beginning...the name.
Is it Scotch Whiskey or Scotch Whisky?
That's exactly how basic things are for me in the world of whiskey, er...I mean whisky...or do I?
The easiest way to figure out if there is a difference in the actual spirit or whether some folks just don't know how to spell is to ask an expert. Or not.
After researching numerous sources, it all seems to come down to this for me. Whiskey with an 'e' is most traditionally used for American and Irish whiskey(s), while Canadian, Scotch and Japanese whisky(ies) leave the extra vowel out of its spelling. With that said...both spellings have been found on bottles in all countries throughout history and most countries are narrowing down which is preferred. The controversy makes for great conversation while enjoying the liquor, however, which is part of the fun of this drink.
Riley doesn't get that elementary in her manual, it is assumed readers know the difference between the spellings and there are various types of whiskies, and have chosen to enrich their education about Scotch's single malts and blends for the single most important factor: taste.
Throughout the guide, Bell has three sidebars ~ Whisky Lexicon, The Noser Knows and The Distillery Cat's Meow ~ giving helpful terminology, tasting notes and historical facts enhancing the guide immensely.
Starting with the labels, storing malts and cost vs. value in section one, Bell gives great insight to the differences and similarities of the distilleries' names, locations and tastes. Moving into the chapter on tasting, the reader receives step-by-step instruction on the best process to get the most out of the experience.
In section two, the authority then gives detailed tutelage of the whisky-making process, including water choice, barley standards, distilling techniques and maturation and cask choice.
For those not wishing to open a craft distillery, jump past two and read section three detailing Scotland distilleries by geographical standpoint with maps, history and types of offerings available throughout the country and islands. From the well known Glenfiddich and The Glen Livet to the lesser familiar distilleries,
Bell gives intimate insight, tips and history of each with a respectful, yet conversational tone.
In a phone interview, Bell discussed with me the ease of obtaining Scotch nowadays from boutique distilleries ("much easier with internet"), being a female in the early days of the male-dominated world of Scotch ("not difficult at all"), and how do American mixologists rate in knowledge of Scotch?
"As with anything, it varies from place to place," explains Bell. "There are growing opportunities in bars that offer a wide selection of choices, and, often times, there is a mixologist on site who is knowledgeable about them. Also there have been some very exciting things done ~ particularly in the larger cities you see this more often ~ of experimentation done with Scotch cocktails.
"I think American mixologists can hold their own with Scotch. It is certainly a growing field I find that mixologists today know a great deal more about single malt than they did 20 years ago and we all benefit from that. It's one of the best times as far as availability, quality and opportunity we've seen in the exploration of Scotch whisky."
The author admits she is clearing out and making way for new bottles in her stash by auctioning her own personal collection of decades worth of Scotch in October. The sale will take place at Bonhams 1793 NYC.
For more information on the author and guide, visit WhiskySmartGuide.com or follow her on Twitter @WhiskySmarts
Bottom line: Elizabeth Riley Bell's straight-forward approach, coupled with fun graphics, detailed maps, step-by-step instructions and history make The Smart Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky an absolute must for the scotch drinker, maker and collector of all levels.
Review copy and images provided by publisher and Elizabeth Riley Bell.
Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated fine-living, travel columnist, freelance writer, and performing arts and restaurant critic. Read her new column, Infused, at GottaGo.us and FoodandDrinkDigital.com and catch her as Indy’s Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC. Gotta Go is published on Gottago.us, BroadwayWorld.com, in M and Retired Living magazines and several Indianapolis area newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @GottaGo, LinkedIn and Facebook.