Ian Buxton's "101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die" is a superb little book that makes an ideal present for the whisky lover in your life, or for yourself if no-one else seems inclined to take the hint. It is sure to broaden your horizons and leave you thinking about whisky in a way you've never thought about it before, and if you only read one whisky book this year, make it this one.
There have been whole shelves of books published about the history, the production, and the drinking of whisky. As a result any new book on any aspect of the subject has to bring something rather different to the table if it is to stand out from the crowd.
Ian Buxton has a background extending back over two decades as a whisky writer, consultant and distiller. His aim in writing this book has been to produce, as the title implies, a list of 101 whiskies that enthusiasts really should seek out and try in order to complete their whisky education. In doing so he has drawn on his own extensive knowledge and judgement, as well as award winning whiskies and the favourites of many friends and colleagues. The approach has been deliberately inclusive and wide ranging, and to be listed whiskies have had to be widely available and (for the most part) reasonably priced. Rare or very expensive whiskies and one-off bottlings have been excluded.
The result is a list of 101 whiskies, each attractively presented in alphabetical order over a double page, with a photo of a bottle facing a page of descriptive text. What truly sets this book apart from many others is the content of the list of 101 whiskies. No one will be surprised to find Aberlour a'bunadh, or Bruichladdich 12 Year Old Second Edition, or four different ages of Highland Park on the list. Where it starts to get really interesting is when it begins to take those of us who think we know a thing or two about Scotch Whisky out of our comfort zones. Blended whiskies? Yes there are quite a few on the list, and the descriptions leave this reviewer thinking that a lifetime's loyalty to single malts might need to be relaxed.
There are also many whiskies in the list produced outwith Scotland, including a number from Ireland, from the Bourbon country of Kentucky, and from Japan, and there are even examples from India and, take a really deep breath, England. As if this diversity of type and origin was not enough to broaden your horizons, there is a non-whisky included. Glenglassaugh's "The Spirit Drink" in whose development the author acknowledges he had a hand, is bottled as it emerges from the still, without cask ageing, and so cannot legally be called whisky. It is a fascinating and fitting inclusion in this list.