"The Whisky Dictionary" by Iain Hector Ross is one of those books you just know you'll be referring to time and again in years to come. It is a beautifully-produced hardback that is clearly built to withstand a long life of intermittent handling, and the result will be an asset to the bookshelf of anyone interested in whisky, and especially in Scotch whisky: and that is a very large number of people in every corner of the globe.
In his introduction, the author says: "This Whisky Dictionary is the first guide to the language written from within the industry. From the floor of the still house to the malt barn's pagoda roof, it gathers the keywords and delves deep into its production process and colourful history. The recent wave of renewed worldwide interest means we live in an era when folk of all nationalities and cultures can meet and find themselves talking 'the language of whisky'. Sharing and savouring their passion for the Universal dram, they use the rich language that has evolved around this ancient and complex spirit. Informative, entertaining and passionate, the Whisky Dictionary is a unique guide to the special vocabulary shared by whisky makers and whisky lovers the world over."
The entries are arranged, as you would expect, alphabetically, and each letter-section is fronted by a nice, and often whimsical, line drawing by artist Ben Averis. As you browse through the entries, you realise, we did, anyway, that however much you think you know about whisky, there is a great deal more that you still have to learn. If, for example, you take a look at the entries under "J", we were of course aware of Japan's extensive history of distillation, which is covered by a large entry. We were unaware that a jaunty-bottle was the Scots expression of a pocket whisky flask; or that a jeddart-jug was a brass jug containing eight gills used as a standard measure; or that jirble meant to pour liquid shakily or unsteadily; or that Jock Tamson could be a colloquial Scots name for whisky.
Producing a dictionary of anything is a thankless task, for the second response of any reader (the first being to admire what is included) is to try to work out what has not been included. It's too easy to get into the situation depicted in the classic Blackadder episode in which Blackadder sets out to find (by inventing them) words omitted by Samuel Johnston from his "A Dictionary of the English Language". For us, it might have been good to see more significant distilleries included (a few, such as Glen Turret, are), and we'd hoped to see mention of classic distillery traveller and author Alfred Barnard included: but then either might have opened the floodgates to many more entries; and produced a book that became unmanageable to handle and uneconomic to produce. What we do have is a wonderful work of reference that should be on the Christmas list of anyone who has someone in their life who loves whisky.