Bar owner and drinks writer, Paul Mathew, takes a look at the latest whisky book to hit the shelves.

Does the world need another whisky book? According to Tristan Stephenson…it does.

The second of his ‘Curious Bartender’ series, ‘Odyssey’, is a new take on the traditional whisky book, and no bad thing for it. His conversational style and inquisitive mind makes this a fascinating and very readable account of whisky 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 whisky creativity, this is a great addition to a bartender’s library.


A Way With Words

‘Odyssey’ starts with a whizz through whisky 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 colouring, 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 whisky 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 colour 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 whisky 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 whisky industry.

Settle Back With The Book And Your Favourite Dram

Stephenson’s enthusiasm for his subject and his curiosity about all things whisky go together to make this accessible book a very welcome addition to the sometimes pretentious world of whisky writing, and particularly valuable for the bartender looking for inspiration to go with an improved understanding of the subject.

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

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