Book Review: The World Atlas of Whisky by Dave Broom

What a cool book. If I sat down and dreamed up the perfect (almost: see below) book about whisky, I would want it to contain the following: Beautiful photography of distilleries and Scottish vistas, sturdy coffee-table book construction, pleasing layout and typography, in-depth descriptions of every major and minor distillery in the world, copious tasting notes by one of the most respected names in whisky writing today, and preamble about general whisky topics. Author Dave Broom managed to package all of the above into his seminal World Atlas of Whisky. In addition, he integrates a roadmap of distillery taste profiles that allows a reader to progress through similar expressions. Example: Liked Laphroaig 10? Try Ardbeg 10. Liked Macallan 10 (sherried)? Try Aberlour 16. Genius.

As usual with these books, my one gripe is the sparseness of information about where flavors in a certain distillery’s product come from. For example, while he talks in-depth about Dalmore’s stills and wood policy, he doesn’t even mention their process water. These are nitpicks, though, as this hardcover book is already 320 pages long, and to include every nerdy detail would have necessitated the publication of multiple tomes! My criticism, however, is totally eliminated by Dave Broom’s inclusion of tasting notes for the new-make spirit at every distillery. What a wonderful source of information! Nobody else does this, and it’s invaluable.

The books begins with a standard (though well-written) introduction to whisky, its production (with handy charts showing usual production methods for malt, grain, Irish pot-still, and American styles), and how to taste it. The ubiquitous flavor map is included. Each region, including Scotland’s many distillation regions, Ireland, Japan, the USA, and Canada begins with an overview of the styles of whisky produced there, a map of distilleries, and a bit of contextual or historical information.

Each distillery (or group of related distilleries) gets one or two pages with a few photographs, a general description with some insight into whisky production, and a handful of tasting notes including the new make and a couple of distillery standard bottlings. Popular or prolific producers of course get more attention. Information on blends and grain whiskies is minimal and independent bottlers are not covered at all, so don’t expect this text to cover all available products on the market. Scotland receives the bulk of the pages (170), The USA is covered in 38 pages, Japan in 18, Ireland in 12, Canada in 10, and the rest of the world (each country gets a page or two) in 30.

The book concludes with a flavor index (listing products that fall into each quadrant of the flavor map), a glossary, and a comprehensive index.

Of all of the whisky books that I have read, I consider this one to be the best. It is the most complete and most pleasantly arranged book, and I continue to use it as my primary source of information when researching a distillery. That makes it my “desert island” whisky book. Because it goes so far beyond dry lists of brief intangible tasting notes, it’s the first book I would recommend to anchor any whisky lover’s library. If Dave Broom’s World Atlas of Whisky were a dram, I would definitely award it with a “Must Have” rating.

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