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Bar owner and drink writer Paul Mathew takes a look at the latest Whisk(e)y book to hit the shelves.

Does the world need another Whisk(e)y book? According to Tristan Stephenson…it does.

The second of his Curious Bartender series, Odyssey, is a new take on the traditional Whisk(e)y book, and no bad thing for it. His conversational style and inquisitive mind makes this a fascinating and very readable account of Whisk(e)y production at a time when the spirit is undergoing rapid expansion and diversification around the world.

As a book to educate and inspire a bit of Whisk(e)y creativity, this is a great addition to a bartender’s library.


A Way With Words

Odyssey starts with a whiz through Whisk(e)y history from the discovery of distillation, through prohibition and ending with modern malt manufactured in 25 different countries. It leads neatly on to the second section dealing with production, where Stephenson’s personal anecdotes on peat cutting and views on caramel coloring, blending and bottling help make this more than just a technical or academic account. His personal experience comes through, which is to be valued—he knows his stuff.

He explains how peat smoke imparts its phenols and looks at the intricacies of cask construction. Summary tables of permitted production methodology for malt, Irish, grain and American Whiskies make it easy to brush up on your Whisk(e)y knowledge. So whether you’re a bartender studying for the next stage of your professional career or you just want to get up to speed, this is the book for you.

The third section deals with a list of distilleries (over 55 of them) and key products, with details of stills, worm tubs and casks, along with tasting notes. Here Stephenson has a way with words too, combining his conversational and personal style with some expressive and mouth-watering descriptions. Clynelish’s 24 year old is described as having “honeycomb, beeswax polish, fruit cake, saffron and overwhelmingly, the color orange,” while Talisker "Storm" has “fresh peach bellini, banana skin, tar and gull feathers…hot chilli and the lingering taste of burnt clothing.” So much more interesting than the commonly used palate of descriptors and it’s great back bar knowledge for when your customer asks you to describe the taste of the different spirits on offer at your bar.

The final section of recipes includes Stephenson’s own blends, as well as Whisk(e)y cocktails from the classic Blood & Sand through to the considerably more quirky Peat & Melon, as well as some of his more elaborate trademark recipes such as Whisky Gums and a home brewed Whisky & Ginger that nods to John Walker’s origins as a grocer. Great inspiration for the experimental bartender.

Finished off with a glossary of terms and distilleries, Odyssey is beautifully illustrated with photography by Addie Chinn. He has tirelessly accompanied Stephenson from windswept beach, through still houses and back to the bar in order to capture some of the heritage, function and beauty of the modern Whisk(e)y industry.

Settle Back With The Book And Your Favorite Dram

Stephenson’s enthusiasm for his subject and his curiosity about all thingsWhisk(e)y go together to make this accessible book a very welcome addition to the sometimes pretentious world of Whisk(e)y writing, and a particularly valuable resource for the bartender looking for inspiration and an improved understanding of the subject.

Want to hear more from Paul Mathew? Follow @wisebartender on Twitter or Instagram for drink-related writing, photography and comment.


The Curious Bartender: An Odyssey of Whiskies by Tristan Stephenson, with photography by Addie Chin, published by Ryland Peters & Small http://www.rylandpeters.com