Before we begin, a brief disclaimer: I know Billy Abbott, and have done for some years now. Whilst I have approached this book as neutrally as possible, it would be foolish to assume that there is not some friendly encouragement involved here.
The British Library’s “Philosophy Of” series covers a broad variety of topics, from beards to beer, but it is inevitably whisky that brings it to my attention.
The Philosophy of Whisky by Billy Abbott is a bright orange tome, and is aimed at those who are just starting on their whisky journey. It has a clear yet playful style, nudging up to irreverence but never actually failing to have respect for whisky.
The book takes a refreshingly global view, and by doing so it manages to avoid getting bogged down in technical details. Billy favours telling the story of whisky and whisky nations, rather than diving deeply into technical issues. The text is packed with plenty of facts, well chosen to fit with the narrative without overwhelming the reader. Sidebars deliver a little extra related information where necessary, and there’s a good selection of illustrations scattered throughout.
For the whisky geeks, the most controversial part will no doubt be the drinking of whisky - where a variety of mixers and cocktails are explored. On the one hand this reflects the fact that this book must be accessible to non-geeks. On the other hand, whisky geeks should still read this so that they can know what normal people might do with their precious...
At 102 pages, it’s not a long book. And if I have to criticise - and this is a review on the internet, so apparently I do - I would have preferred each illustration to be captioned than to have to rely on the list of illustrations at the back.
The Philosophy Of Whisky is a decent introduction to the topic, written with wit and insight. Billy has accomplished the rare feat of making an accessible text interesting to experts and novices alike, and should be applauded for it.
(But if he asks you your opinion you should say it was soft, strong and thoroughly absorbent.)
The Philosophy Of Whisky is published by British Library Publishing and is currently sold out in most bookstores, priced at £10. Billy will happily sign yours if you are truly determined to reduce its value.