“Whisky isn’t for an elite, it is for everyone. It’s a great drink, a fascinating drink, a complex drink, a historical drink but is, ultimately, JUST A DRINK.” – Dave Broom
Dave Broom himself can pretty much sum up his own book, Whisky: The Manual, with that line alone. You’d think he felt personally responsible for herding whisky drinkers into the throes of wankerism, and is trying his hardest to put things right. That is not the case of course, as Dave has always been vocal about drinking whisky the way you like it.
One of the foremost whisky writers in the world, Dave has a wealth of experience shared by precious few, which lends gravitas to his prose. But that is not what makes The Manual brilliant. The book is excellent because it’s patently clear in its intent from the get-go, following through with pages of concise information that helps you get around quickly to enjoying whisky.
From detailed historical accounts to obscure nineteenth century recipes that only a true whisky nut will know about, Dave doesn’t shy away from including them here. That is the facet that I enjoyed most; even in a bid to keep things simple, the text is always filled with nuggets of interesting information, which rather than alienate, bring to life any discourse on the spirit’s origins or its cultural developments. It’s undeniable that Dave holds whisky in reverence, and for us readers, all the better for that.
Despite the billing that this book is about enjoying your whisky in its many forms, it kicks off with a brief history – or as brief as it could be – of whisky’s origins that is littered with painstakingly researched information. It may be too much of a read for those who may not care for the past, but its inclusion is necessitated by virtue of the book being a guide, and by Dave’s argument for why whisky should not be advocated as a spirit that has to be drunk neat, and only neat.
One of the best, and arguably the most enjoyable things about The Manual is the chapter on how to drink whiskies, and this forms the bulk of the book. Here, Dave gives general, but fairly vivid descriptions of a variety of (mostly) readily available whiskies from around the world, and includes a points system rating their suitability with the most common mixers. Interestingly, the list isn’t dominated by scotch; there’s a fair mix of Canadian, American, Japanese and Taiwanese whiskies.
Sifting through the entries, you’ll find some patterns emerging, which to an extent will help you learn about flavour characteristics in a whisky and how they complement or are dissonant with flavours from mixers. For example, heavily sherried whiskies generally don’t play nice with any mixers except water. But more importantly, these pages will open up even more possibilities in your own whisky journey – and you won’t scoff at the idea of mixing green tea, albeit of the unsweetened or lightly sweetened variety, with your scotch any more.
Last but not least, The Manual also includes a small section of essential cocktail recipes that utilise whisky as its chief ingredient (but of course). In essence it is a quick ‘dummies guide’ on the origins of the classics, some variants, as well as some modern recipes. Even if you aren’t into cocktails, it’s worth a read – some recipes date back as far as the nineteenth century.
While my experience has been largely positive I do have one complaint: the section on food pairing is only two pages long – which strikes me as rather odd for a book that sets to be a guide on how to enjoy whisky. Bearing in mind that such a section may in itself command a book of its own, I’m of the opinion that more should have been done on this topic – even a cursory flavour chart would have been helpful. For many out there, food and drink are inseparable, and an expert hand would be of utmost help in enhancing the whisky experience for a beginner, and for that matter, whisky drinkers who don’t usually pair their drams with food.
It’s fair to say that this book, whilst written with the curious beginner in mind, has a lot to offer even to seasoned whisky fans, especially those who have been drinking their single malts straight up or with a dash of water. And, if you’re wondering how best to introduce your friends to the perks and joys of uisge beatha, you might find some clues here to help them get past the intimidation factor. After all, as Dave writes, “whisky is about pleasure, it is not about pain.”
This is a book I’ll be keeping within’s arm’s reach at all times, if just for the handy guides alone.