Scotch: A Journal of Single-Malt Whiskies
by Alma Lee
Published by Stone Fox Publishing
127 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Reviewed by Aaron Blanton
You can't always judge a book by its cover. Alma Lee's Scotch is a good example. A plain brown cover with just that single word embossed on it in gold foil stamp, the book seems packaged as its subject would have been in the United States during Prohibition: you can guess at the good stuff inside, but it's possible to pass it by without a second glance if you don't have a prod.
Even a cursory glance is not enough. The book's typesetting is lackadaisical at best (there are only spaces where apostrophes should be and the type justification is erratic) and forget about color photos or even color reproduction of labels. Modest is the key word, almost to the point of forgeability. Almost. On closer inspection, there is more book here than meets the eye. The author is herself a Scot, "born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the daughter of a bag-pipe maker," as well as the former executive director of the Writers Union of Canada and head of the Writer's Trust. At present, she is the artistic director of the Vancouver International Writer's Festival and, as her bio in Scotch states, she "has found that her passion for writing and writers is the perfect partner for her passion for single-malt whiskies."
A foreword by well-known Scottish crime fiction author Ian "King of Tartan Noir" Rankin sets the tone. Rankin briefly describes a tour sure to make any single malt enthusiast's mouth water: when he was 24, he and an American friend set out in a borrowed car to "drive all around the Highlands sampling malt whisky. It was a great way to see Scotland. Basically, we drove north up the west coast, stopping off at the main islands (Islay and Skye), then headed south again through Strathspey. It was a crash course in appreciation."
Adding to the literary aspects of Scotch, Jack Whyte, author of The Dream of Eagles quartet and another Scot, writes the introduction. Among other things, Whyte writes amusingly about a near single-malt faux pas that occurred many years ago between a guest in his house and a bottle of Grant's Ancient Reserve:
I remember the horror with which I watched one of my wife's friends preparing to pour Coke into a large glass of nectar from the single bottle I had received as a birthday gift. Fortunately, my scream reached her ears before she could pour, and although her hair turned white overnight, the Grant's was saved.
This affectionate and slightly humorous tone defines Scotch very well. "I have in no way attempted to cover all the distilleries in Scotland," Lee writes, "nor do I claim to have drunk single-malts from all of them!"
What she has created is a friendly Scotch companion that informs gently while providing a place to record tasting notes on many years of Scotch appreciation. Prefacing a brief but succinct section on how best to appreciate single-malt, Lee writes that tasting "can be approached in two ways: analytically or hedonistically. The first is objective, while the second is subjective, based purely on personal pleasure and preference. For the purpose of this journal I am assuming the subjective tasting style will apply, appropriate since the single-malts do seem to have become part of a hedonistic lifestyle."
Scotch: A Journal of Single-Malt Whiskies is a modest gem. Intended, it would seem, to help the neophyte learn happily to embrace the hedonist within. | March 2001
Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living outside of the United States. Most of the time, he's happy to be alive.