The Language of Whisky

The Language of Whisky

$35 AUD

David McNicoll

Wheatfield Press

2020

A neat, shortish book – 192 pages – but full of surprises and hitherto little- known information pertaining to whisky, and almost exclusively Scotch with only the barest of nods of acknowledgement to its Irish ancestry. The writing is uncomplicated, place names and distillery titles are explained in a pleasing straightforward way – I suspect reflecting the author’s geographer background – and the organisation of the story is logical and easy to follow.

Given the connection between whisky and the written word, as described by the author, I was surprised that his description of the Isle of Jura made no mention of George Orwell who famously wrote “1984” whilst resident at the local hotel. There are also a few surprising errors – “bear hands” for “bare hands”. There are other more serious inaccuracies such as the author’s pejorative description of the origins of the name of the North British Distillery which had nothing to do with, as the alleges, “an attempt by the London establishment to officially rename Scotland as North Britain” but is a reflection of what was a fairly common and entirely voluntary practice in 19th century Scotland, as witness the countless legal documents in Scotland pertaining to property ownership in which the address invariably carried the initials “NB” at the end for North Britain, meaning Scotland.

I must also pick up on is the dating of the closure of Meadowburn Distillery in Campbelltown which is shown as 1986 when in fact it went silent 100 years earlier even before the famous whisky chronicler, Alfred Barnard, could get there as part of his tour of the whisky distilleries of the United Kingdom in the 1880s.

These frailties apart, this is an enjoyable and informative read which has much to commend it. The book gives good coverage of the distilleries and explanations of the origin of their names whether they be Gaelic or Norse. The final chapter about the tasting and enjoyment of whisky alone makes the book worth buying. And I entirely agree with his suggested reorganisation of the geographic distinctions as between the different whisky producing regions of Scotland.

 

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