Island whiskies have long held a fascination and a powerful emotional draw on whisky drinkers the world over. Their special combination of heritage, mystique, and remote location captures the imagination; their highly distinctive flavours are often imitated but seldom bettered. There have been few books on island whisky and none written in recent years.
But Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not merely a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland’s islands, where he learns to fish with high explosives, ends up hurling his dinner into the sea, and comes face to face with a basking shark. Combining an expert’s knowledge of whisky with a travel writer’s fondness for anecdote, and with a keen description of place, he provides a special treat for all who love the islands’ magical drams.
There is a lot to like about this book. It’s about whisky (the Scottish spelling, ‘whiskey’ in Ireland), he goes to Scottish islands, and he knows his stuff (but brace yourself for a lot of possibly extraneous asides in paratheses). The Scottish whiskey industry has been booming for a while, and as such has been an inspiration to the now rising Irish whiskey (see what I mean, it gets tricky making sure the spellings are right, and his habit is catching too). It is reassuring and interesting to note, and recall that many of the Scottish distilleries were closed or close to closure and it was an industry in seemingly terminal decay.
Now, however, Scottish Whiskey is booming, and the islands especially, and arguably Islay in particular, with its many distilleries, visitor centres and limited editions. Buxton has been visiting the islands for decades and has the benefit of a long term overview and passion for the product, and it’s beautiful locations. All of this is quite good, informative and useful to read. Sometimes though the book feels like it is also aiming to dip into Tristam Shandy territory and settle some long running scores along the way. Of course we all like to demonstrate that we were actually right all along and that our employers should never have let us go all the years ago, but after a while it does at times get in the way of the narrative. Surely in many ways he has the ultimate revenge that he is clearly the whiskey expert that they proved not to be, therefore perhaps it might have made for a less distracted book with all the ‘I told them so’ asides.
Overall though it is a fun, useful book and helpfully enhanced by his photos to illustrate the places he has been describing. We enjoyed it, we hope it inspires Irish whiskey distilleries to bloom, and even better if there become a series of distilleries on Irish islands too…?