In his new book “101 Whiskies to Try Before you Die” whisky expert Ian Buxton poses the fun challenge of learning about whisky by drinking a lot of whisky. Having the enviable job of working in the whisky industry for over two decades, as a consultant, Marketing Director of a world-famous single malt, and builder of several distillery visitor centers, he learned the ins and outs of whisky and the people who make it. In this book, he shares his wisdom and some entertaining details along the way.
Over a golden dram of Highland Park 50 at its Harrods launch in London earlier this year, we talked scotch with the book’s illustrious author.
Buxton’s love of whisky led him to write this book not as “an awards list,” but rather as the definitive “guide to 101 whiskies that enthusiasts should try” to complete their education. He focuses generally on bottles that are neither obscure nor prohibitively expensive. Buxton’s love of whisky jumps off of the page with each story he has to tell about the geography of Scotland, the history of distilleries, the stories behind some of the unique companies that create award-winning blends. Of the whiskies included in the book, 72 are from Scotland while the rest hail from Ireland, England, Japan, Sweden, Canada, India and the U.S.
From insider details about distilleries he visited on his honeymoon to honest disclosures about companies he worked for, 101 Whiskies is full of anecdotes that make what could otherwise be a dry who’s-who into a page-turner. From three types of the brown tipple created in small batches by Compass Box to impressions of the impossibly hip Monkey Shoulder site, he covers it all with wit and a balanced perspective.
While some brands are accessible like the Macallan 10 and Makers Mark, more exclusive labels make the cut when Buxton feels they’re worth the money, which includes Johnny Walker’s Blue Label George V Edition and the surprisingly delicate Highland Park 40. All of this variety turns the book into a whisky-fueled journey through tasting these 101 whiskies into both a inspiring travel guide and an education in scotch, whisky, whiskey, bourbon, rye and new make spirit (whisky before it’s been aged).
Buxton always makes sure to prioritize the actual liquor itself, adding his own DIY suggestions for some of the packaging, such as the posh wooden box for the Dewar’s Signature that could become “a handy coffin for a pet hamster or gerbil.” Though he’s similarly skeptical about Basil Hayden’s copper belt, he likes the contents.
Buxton does have a few preferred places for drinking whisky, including Edinburgh’s Bramble Bar, The Pot Still in Gasgow, the Highlander in Craigellachie, NYC’s The Brandy Library and in London, The Athenaeum Hotel or Albannach and Salt. And if there was to be a 102nd bottle? “Probably some moonshine from the hills, but we don’t want everyone to know and the cops to visit the guy.”