Book Review: Malt Whisky Yearbook 2021

The Malt Whisky Yearbook is an annual “field guide” to the world of malt whisky and the malt whisky industry. Author/Editor and Keeper of the Quaich Ingvar Ronde began in 2005 – and every year thereafter – compiling 12 months of news, facts, and figures from the industry while also managing to capture the overall trend and feel of the marketplace. In a way, it’s like a whole year of whisky magazine issues compressed into one compact and concise guidebook. Many if not most people in the industry (writers, retailers, importers, distributors, ambassadors, and salespersons) keep a copy of the latest Yearbook on them for reference.

I was lucky twice this year. First, I was offered an advance review copy. The book is currently available for preorder at Amazon UK and the Official Malt Whisky Yearbook website, and will soon be available for preorder in the US. UK preorders ship 10/28/2020. Second, is listed in the “Websites to Watch” page! Look ma, I’m (semi) famous!

Let’s dive in to see what the Malt Whisky Yearbook contains in case you’re not sure if it’s worth your $15. First please realize the book is strictly focused on malt whisky, primarily malt whisky from Scotland but also from other distilleries across the globe. You won’t find coverage of blended scotch, Scottish grain whisky, bourbon, rye, Irish whiskey (aside from Irish single malt), etc. Note also that this book isn’t really an alternative to recently-shamed writer Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible – nor is it trying to be. Murray’s books are almost entirely tasting notes and ratings. The Yearbook treats tasting as a side feature and instead focuses on facts, news, and valuable background information about the whiskies and distilleries themselves.

The Yearbook is a handsome, sturdy paperback. It appears well-bound and cut. It measures just under 9.5″ x 6.25″, is 0.5″ thick, and contains 298 full-color pages. Each yearly edition has a different principal color on the cover, so they’re easy to spot at a glance. All photos (and there are many) are full-color and reasonably sized. If they were larger, there wouldn’t be enough room to fit in all of the text. The book is divided up into sections, which I’ll list in order:

The first section (47 pages) provides 6 whisky magazine-style articles from well-known whisky writers such as Charles MacLean and Gavin D. Smith. This year there’s an article about the effect of enzymes in malting by Charles MacLean, one on the difficulty of objectively rating a whisky by Ian Wisniewski, a list of ten malts that changed the course of whisky history by Gavin D. Smith, and more.

The second section (143 pages) is an alphabetical list of Scottish malt distilleries. Each has 1 or 2 pages with pertinent facts, a history side bar, and several paragraphs about the distillery that are primarily focused on recent events in the past year, changes to production strategies or numbers, new releases, etc. Each distillery page also lists the current core range of expressions. After the Scottish distilleries, there is a separate space for new distilleries (1/2 page each), a list of active distilleries categorized by owner, and some details on closed distilleries.

The third section (62 pages) contains limited information – a paragraph or two – on World distilleries broken down by continent and then country. This is where you’ll find American distilleries such as Westland and Balcones, as well as Japanese malt distilleries and a shocking number of German distilleries (who knew?).

The fourth section (35 pages) starts with a 15-page retrospective on the year in the malt whisky industry, focusing on trends, numbers, and big players. Next come 7 pages of profiles on independent bottlers and then 5 pages of whisky shops by country. The last few pages contain charts and graphs and a map of Scottish distilleries.

The Index covers only the names of distilleries, so you’re out of luck if you want to look up information by topic.

Scattered throughout the book are extra features such as the aforementioned Websites to Watch, profiles of seven Whisky Legends such as Jim McEwan and Michael Urquhart, and around 200 tasting notes from either Gavin D. Smith or the author, Ingvar Ronde.

Thanks again to Ingvar for the review copy!


Highly Recommended, practically mandatory if you’re a whisky nerd or work in the industry.

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  • Good call on this. After years of whisky obsession on my part, I was somehow unaware of what a great resource this book is. Mine came in the mail today. Even though I only had time to skim through it (I looked up my three favorite distilleries), I can already tell that my copy will be completely worn out by the time that the 2021 edition is released. Cheers!