"The A to Z of Whisky Place-Names: Landscape, Language & Invention" by Jacob King is a brilliant book that should be considered an essential work of reference by anyone interested in Scotch whisky; and only to a slightly lesser extent by anyone interested in the development of place-names in Scotland.
The author sets the scene in his introduction. "This is not a book about Scotch whisky; rather, this is a book about the origin, development and meaning of place-names found on whisky bottles. Such a name can be the name of the whisky or the name of the distillery; broadly speaking... This book is therefore about place-names. In deciding which place-names should be included in the book, one of the following is applicable: if the distillery has been open after 1950; if the site of the distillery is visible today; or if the place-name appears in writing on a whisky bottle one could reasonably buy... Some place names discussed in this book go back two thousand years, whereas some were invented wholesale in the twenty-first century. Many of the names incorporate earlier names but have added elements or changed the spelling for various reasons."
The author goes on to discuss the linguistic origins of place-names in Scotland, with Gaelic, Norse, Scots and English influences. After a short section of maps showing the locations of some of the place-names included, we are straight into the body of the book, which is - as the title implies - an A to Z listing that starts with "Aberargie" (a name of Pictish origin meaning "the mouth of the River Farg" before passing through a number of adaptations); and ends with Yesnaby (which seems to have been named after a farm on Orkney). Included within this is a collection of images. There is then an additional rather shorter section which looks at some of the lost distilleries of Scotland, which came and then went in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
This is a book which will be awarded an enduring home on one of our bookshelves, with other books we have about the origin of place-names in Scotland. What sets this one apart from them is its focus on place-names relating to Scotch whisky, which will ensure its appeal to a much wider market. The cover is not the most immediately attractive we've seen, but don't let that put you off. What lies between the covers is, as we said in the opening paragraph above, an essential work of reference that will be of lasting value.