Distilled – Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

The guys at the Cask Strength whisky blog have been making a name for themselves for the last couple of years or so. The started bottling whisky, their blog went professional and now they’ve also got a book out.

Let’s start with a rant first (keep reading if you’re here for more positive stuff). In our club magazine that came out last week I wrote a piece about indie press (bloggers, club magazines and such) being the last place you have left for unbridled opinion on all things whisky. I feel that a lot of professional ‘journalism’ is quickly turning into PR regurgitation.

Much in the way that The Whisky Sponge wrote yesterday: “Whisky Magazine accidentally prints an article criticising Talisker Storm. The following issue is a 137 page apology.”.

By this, I assume, the writer means that there is no criticism allowed in professional publications in fear of losing goodwill (and ad money). I feel this also happened with, among others, the cask strength whisky blog. It’s just not as edgy as it used to be and steers clear of any opinionated writing.

With that in mind I was a bit wary of their book ‘Distilled’. The press releases stated that it takes a look at the world wide industry of distilled spirits. This, in itself, could be interesting if done right. It could also be the most boring read the universe has ever seen.

It turned out to be the former. It’s very well written (something that Jeil and Noel can be trusted with) and reads like it’s a nice and fluid conversation instead of dry info about which spirit is made of what crop.

There’s a fine line between being too basic by not giving enough information and being concise with it in a way that sparks your interest. In most chapters, the gents managed to inspire interest. As in, the only reason I’m not buying a shitload of mezcal right now is that I promised my wife I wouldn’t spend any money anytime soon since I kind of went overboard in the last quarter.

How I got a book I was so skeptical about is another thing. I had it shortlisted for ‘stuff to order when I run out of booze books’ with a Dutch kind of Amazon like website. My wife logged in to buy me a Sinterklaas present and thought this one looked nicest. So initially I was a bit worried about having wasted € 20, but I was wrong. So, thanks Anneke, for getting me this!

Mainly the chapters about mezcal and tequila, shochu, and brandy (Calvados for some reason) have really sparked my interest and I now want to diverge from whisky some more into all kinds of random distillates and I imagine myself having a cocktail bar’s worth of assorted spirits behind me when I type this. I know I’m now going to do a mezcal bottle share next year.

Another complaint might be they're too 'hipster'

Another complaint might be they’re too ‘hipster’

This is turning into one of the most weird book reviews ever but let’s get back to what’s written:

They have neatly turned the book into a spirit by spirit walk through of the world. A chapter per category which is concise, and has information on regional differences, production methods and indie producers. It also contains a list of ten different species of each category which are worthy of seeking out.

How Master of Malt and the authors have not paired up for tasting sets is a mystery to me.

The only thing that felt slightly superfluous was the rattling off of ‘not so much to say about’ spirits towards the end of the book. There are some tiny chapters on stuff that is hardly interesting to talk about because of the incredible limited availability or it’s limited flavor that it feels like your just waiting for the book to end.

Keep in mind this is only about 10 pages or so and the rest is very good to read. Maybe to us whisky geeks the chapter on whisky is a bit too short. Initially I expected to say it the other way around in which the info would be too long since we already know it all. In this case however, the info is good, and I feel they haven’t given the different types (bourbon, rye, malt) enough lime light.

So, what I’m trying to say here is that if you have some € 20 to spare, and are interested in reading about different kinds of booze, this is the book for you! Get it.

At Master of Malt here.


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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2 Responses to Distilled – Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

  1. Ol' Jas says:

    Their blog is professional? By that do you mean they’re in the pocket of the industry? I could buy that.

    But if you mean it’s written at a professional level of quality, I’d have to dissent. I think it’s actually one of the worst-written blogs that I ever peek at. Bad grammar, bad (no?) proofreading, poor flow of ideas. When I saw they were writing a book (!) of all things, I was deeply skeptical. If it came out OK in the wash, they must have had a good editor.

    Sorry to be negative. That idea of their blog being “professional” just prickled at me.

    • Thanks for the feedback.

      I think I’m large on the same page as you. By professional I meant not necessarily they’re in the industry’s pocket, but I do consider them professional in the way that they’re earning their keep by means of whisky and other booze.

      Hence my comment. Since they’re now dependent of the industry they’ve lost their critical edge.

      I’m not sure about their proof reading and since I’m no native speaker their grammar issues probably slip by me.

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