Best Scotch Whisky Books

When I was in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I stopped by their duty free shop (the one right through the security checkpoint) to see what they had.

It was a beautifully set up little area for single malt scotches. I wish I took some photos, especially now that I’m starting that series where I post photos of duty free areas, but alas my description will have to do.

The scotch area was a sectioned off part of the store in the back, about 20′ x 20′ with a few high dollar scotches in nice cases in the middle of the room. Along the sides, the racks were set up like bookcases. There was a lot of scotch but in between, when there was space, they stuck some books. It looked very much like a library and it was a look I wanted to recreate at home.

I only have two whisky books at home and I felt I needed to pick up a few more to fill up some space between the oddly spaced bottles. As any aficionado will tell you, it’s as if no two boxes are the same width!

To help me find out the best of the best in scotch whisky books, I asked readers of Scotch Addict to send me their favorites.

Below is a collection of the best of the best, in case you wanted to expand your library!

Whisky Bible by Jim Murray

Jim Murray's Whisky BibleThis book was recommended the most, by leaps and bounds, over any other book on this list. I’ll let reader Lyle tell you why it’s his favorite:

In the front section, he explains his rating system using nose, taste, finish, & balance.

His, “How to Taste Whisky” also provides great tips for the novice. My wife has never liked the smell of Scotch, but during the past 1 ½ years she has occasionally joined me in scotch tasting and actually enjoys the occasional tasting. Of course tasting a several Scotches on an afternoon with each consisting of ¼ ounce in a Glencairn glass is not the same as drinking a glass of Scotch. However, it has allowed her to appreciate the variety of flavors.

By introducing her to Scotch in this manner, she has been able to define the aspects that she likes, the Speyside whiskies. And on rare occasions, she has joined me in a glass of Scotch.

I believe that the best way to introduce Scotch to a non-Scotch enthusiast is to go through the tasting process with several different whiskies. Since taste is subjective, it is important to help them match his or her tastes; otherwise you risk putting them off Scotch forever.

Getting back to Murray’s Whisky Bible, one can use his guide to select a whisky more in tune with the tastes of the novice. For my wife, she leans toward the sherry & fruity whiskies and away from the peaty or heavy oak ones. To each his or her own!

You have to remember that to many non-Scotch drinkers, Scotch is a foul smelling vile liquid, for old men with cast iron stomachs! This why I believe that one needs to ease the person into the Scotch experience through a tasting.

I am sure that if you just handed the average, non-Scotch, drinker a glass of Laphroaig, they would be hesitant to become a Scotch enthusiast.

Click to Buy Whisky Bible by Jim Murray

Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson

Whiskey: The Definitive World GuideThis book is the most well known tome on whiskey. Whether you want to learn about Scotch, Bourbon, or Whiskey, Michael Jackson has you covered.

I first learned about Michael Jackson through his homebrewing books, it wasn’t until later that I learned he had such an extensive collection of books about whisky. Another book that was mentioned frequently was Michael Jackson’s “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch,” which is a classic.

Click to Buy Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson

The World Atlas Of Whisky by Dave Bloom

The World Atlas of WhiskyThis particular book, by Dave Broom, was recommended by several readers. I’ve never personally seen this book but from what I gather online, it’s a massive 320 page beauty that covers almost every single distillery you could name. 350 expressions tasted, 150 distilleries explored – that’s quite a few stamps on the Whisky passport.

Broom himself is a journalist with 20 years of experience, a four-time Glenfiddich Award winning author (which are no longer awarded), and he’s the editor of a handful of magazines as well as a writer of many more. He’s on top of his stuff and I can’t think of many folks better than him to write about whisky.

Whisky: The Manual is another book by Dave Bloom worth checking out.

Click to Buy The World Atlas Of Whisky by Dave Bloom

World Whiskey by Charles MacLean

World Whiskey by Charles MacleanIf you need a beautiful hardcover coffee table book about whiskey, this is the one to get.

Here’s what Bob has to say about this book:

World Whiskey had BEAUTIFUL large pictures of the various brands that I might actually have some chance of affording, and finding on the shelf. The Michael Jackson book was and ultimate authority, but no pictures and tons of scotches that I will never see and could never afford.

After much stewing around (books were about the same price), I decided to go with the great picture book by Maclean. It also had other types of whiskies featured, and I am not opposed to drinking some Irish Whiskey or Bourbon.

Readers also recommended these two books, also by Charles MacLean:

Click to Buy World Whiskey by Charles MacLean

Honorable Mentions

These are books that weren’t overwhelmingly recommended by readers but I thought were worth putting in a list, in case you were looking for a book off the beaten path. I added notes whenever readers offered them. I hope you find a good book to add to your library!

What book will you add to your library?

What is the smokiest peatiest scotch whisky?

 Credit: martinak15

Credit: martinak15




Once you enjoy a peaty scotch in front of a roaring fire, there are fewer things better. There’s just something about staring at the flicker of the flames and enjoying a dram.

Chances are you’ve had some Ardbeg or Laphroaig or Lagavulin and you’re wondering if there’s more. Ardbeg is generally regarded as the peatiest and, in terms of the standard lineup, it’s definitely up there.

But… there are peatier and smokier scotches. Special editions where the distiller has gone all out.

How do you get smoke into a liquid?

Well, it’s not really smoke (or peat), it’s just what we associate with it. Peatyness is measurable, in phenols, a carbolic acid and aromatic organic compound that makes its way into the barley during the drying process.

It’s measured in parts per million (ppm) and the higher ppm means you have more of these aromatic compounds, which means smokier and peatier. Also remember that the measurement is taken of the barley, not of the resulting whisky.

What is the smokiest, peatiest scotch whisky?

Bruichladdich-Octomore-5-1Fortunately, unlike many things in life, this has a quantitative answer – it’s all in the ppm of phenols, which is measurable.

Who is king? Bruichladdich Octomore.

There are several versions of the Octomore but the latest, 5.1, boasts a whopping 169 ppm (6.2 is peated at 167 ppm) . In addition to smoke, it packs an alcoholic punch too, bottled at 59.5% and in one of the sexiest bottles I’ve ever seen. (something about an all black matte finish)

Bruichladdich is itself an Islay, which is home to some of the peatiest scotch in all the land, but it’s regular lineup is unpeated. It’s only the Port Charlotte and Octomore line that gets the peat.

Port Charlotte is “heavily peated” to 40 ppm, which puts it on par with some of their peaty island-mates.

Speaking of neighbors, how do some of the other peatiest Islays stack up? Octomore is waaaaay up there. Ardbeg told me, via email, that all expressions are peated to 55 ppm with two exceptions, Bladsa has a ppm of 8 and Supernova has a ppm of 100. I emailed Laphroaig and Lagavulin and will report back if they respond.

More to it than Phenols

Phenols aren’t everything though… Other characteristics matter too. Some whiskies will taste peatier and smokier because of how they’re matured.

For example, the tasting notes of the 5.1 talk of scents and flavors more often associated with Speysides – like cinnamon, grapefruit, tangerine, and honeyed lemon. It’s paired with more traditional peaty flavors like peat smoked barley, sea salt, light iodine.

If you sip some Laphroaig, on the other hand, you won’t get much, if any, citrus. It’ll have a hint of sweetness but you’ll mostly get medicinal, iodine, and smoke. It’ll seem peatier and smokier because that’s all you get, even if the phenol counts don’t say so.

A violinist doesn’t play any louder or softer in an orchestra, but he or she would sound louder when playing by themselves.

What does triple distilled mean and does it matter?

auchentonshan-triple-distillationAuchentoshan bills itself (the Long Version explanation is absolutely fascinating) as the only triple distilled single malt scotch. It’s one of those phrases that gets used in marketing and I never really knew what impact it had on whisky.

The bigger question is… does it matter? That is debatable.

Let’s first talk about what triple distillation is and what it might mean, then follow that up with a look at whether or not it makes for a better whisky.

What is triple distilled?

If we remember back to the steps in making whisky, we know that distillation is the step that happens after fermantation but before maturation in the barrel. What you’re getting out of the distillation process is mostly alcohol, often called new make whisky. It’s clear, mostly alcohol, and most Scotch whisky is only distilled twice. (interestingly enough, most Irish pot still whiskey is distilled three times)

Every time you distill, you increase the alcohol by volume because you are taking the products of one still and putting it into a second one. For the exactly process, Whisky Science has a great writeup of triple distillation as well as some history.

Is it better?

The more you distill, the more heavy components are left behind. So it’s believed that triple distilled whiskies are “lighter” because that third distillation removes more of the heavier components. The heavier components are like oils and proteins which contribute to body, mouthfeel, while the lighter ones are like esters that contribute to the aroma and scent.

Finally, maybe there’s a reason Auchentoshan is one of the only single malts that uses triple distillation. Maybe it doesn’t matter enough for the others to do it. While it makes for a fine distinction, it’s a differentiator, but I doubt you’d say they make the absolute “best whisky in the world.”

In the 2013 SF Spirits Competition, Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch won a Double Gold while their classic won a silver. So they win awards but they hardly run the table.

There’s also the issue of cost and time versus quality. You can’t argue that distilling a third time takes more time and has to cost more, there’s no getting around it. If it made for a better whisky, you might see premium brands doing it and touting it on their branding… but they don’t.

That said, triple distilled isn’t bad either. Just another wrinkle to add to an already complex spirit… which makes it all the more fun!

Is Peatyness Measurable?

Credit: Panoramas

Credit: Panoramas


Peaty-ness, or more accurately smokiness (the smoke comes from the burning of peat as a fuel source to heat to dry the barley), is measured in parts per million (ppm) of phenols in the barley before it’s been milled.

What are phenols? It’s a class of chemicals, one of which is Phenol itself, that contribute the medicinal and peatyness.

It’s actually five phenols:

  • Phenol
  • Cresol
  • 2-Ethylphenol
  • Xylenol
  • Guaiacol

These chemicals are naturally occurring in peat.

Not being a scientist, I can’t say what contributes to what and to what extent but most people think cresol contributes the most. We think it’s medicinal because it’s used in disinfectants (it’s used to dissolve other chemicals), but those are the chemical compounds you’ll find in whisky (that is attributed to the peat).

Non-peated barley might have phenols of around half to 3 ppm. On the other end, Ardbeg will see around 50 ppm. Another familiar name is Laphroaig which starts at 40 ppm but ends up around 25 ppm. It’s estimated that 30-50% of the phenols make it into the final new make whisky.

If you want to find out more, this PDF does a great job explaining the whole process.

Do You Need to Aerate Whisky?

Credit: Bearfaced

Credit: Bearfaced

If you’re a fan of red wine, you’ll know that one of the tips to help “open up” a bottle of red wine is to aerate it or decant it. Aerate simply means to introduce air to the wine, usually through the process of decanting, but sometimes with the use of an aerator. The idea is that the air mixes in with the liquid molecules of the wine and separates them a little, which makes it easier to detect some of the subtler flavors. I don’t know the exact science behind it but the experts swear by it.

If it makes sense to aerate wine, do we need to aerate whisky?

Yes and no.

Yes it helps to let whisky breathe by swirling it in your glass but I don’t recommend using an aerator or decanting it (for the purpose of aeration). A device like the Vinturi wine aerator might work for wine but it’s unnecessary for whisky.

By swirling the whisky in your glass, you’re in a sense aerating it, and you release more of the aromatic compounds so they’re easier to detect. You don’t have to do this but many whisky experts recommend it.

You also release more alcohol vapors, which can be overwhelming if you’re new to scotch and high alcohol by volume (40%+) spirits. You can counteract the higher alcohol percentage by adding a few drops of water (again, recommended by experts), which drops the alcohol by volume percentage and opens up a whole new world of flavors.

In summary, you don’t need to aerate whisky like you would aerate a red wine, but some air and water will bring out some more flavors and improve the experience. If someone wants to sell you a whisky aerator, run the other way!