The Science and Commerce of Whisky – Ian Buxton and Paul S. Hughes

Of course, on holiday you read books. At least, I try to. In this case I brought a pile of stuff I had lying around for quite a while and tried to go through as many as possible. I made it through four books. Three of those are booze related and will be reviewed.

When this came out the better part of  year ago I was contacted by the Royal Society of Chemistry whether or not I was interested in receiving a copy for review. Of course I was, but they wanted my review in some science-y periodical of theirs. I don’t think my chemisty is up to scratch and the publishing was to be exclusive (so no blog review) made this not happen. So, I ordered the book myself and technically, because of that this post costs me about 32 euros.

The Science and Commerce of Whisky

The Science and Commerce of Whisky

Anyway, the book itself. There is a quite clear distinction in the chapters written by Buxton and Hughes. Buxton’s focus, obviously, on the marketing, history and trends in the whisky industry, while Hughes’ focus on the chemistry (him being a professor of fermentation and distillation at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh).

The start of the book is an introduction into what whisky is and its history over the entire known existance of grain distillates. Fairly interesting but not much new information. Of course, some other aspects of the history are highlighted compared to other books, but nothing shocking so far.

The chemistry of each part of the whisky making process is handled next and while I did understand the bits about distilling and maturation rather well, I couldn’t make anything of the “before-distillation chapters”. This is far too technical for a layman like me. It focuses heavily on the chemic reactions to create alcohol and flavours in the entire proces of steeping, malting, storing and fermenting barley in which there is a lot of in depth technical data shared. Let’s keep in mind that this book is written as a scientific piece, and not targeted at douches like me.

I wasn’t too sure about the marketing chapters before I read them. Were they going to be interesting at all? It turns out they are. There is a lot of information on how marketing has developed over the last two centuries, when whisky branding was started until now where marketing is big business and often handled on a global level.

I’m not going to share any examples of interesting facts in the book, but I do want to say that it differs quite a bit from, for example, Ingvar Ronde’s Malt Whisky Yearbook which focuses heavily on actual figures of the past annum. The Science and Commerce of Whisky focuses on how the marketing engines actually work in certain situations and what the effects of certain actions are. What’s also nice is that some marketing has always been based on twisted truths and that this is not something of the last decades, as whisky geeks often proclaim.

So, concluding, this is a book for whisky geeks who, preferably, have some affinity with chemistry. If you don’t, or simply don’t care about that there’s still quite a bit of interesting stuff in here, but you more or less cancel out half the book. And since this book does set you back of three tenners, it’s pretty expensive for another take on history and marketing of whisky. Still, being a booze geek, I highly recommend it.

I got my copy at for a little over 30 euros.

About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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