Bad Whisky 3rd Edition
Edward Burns. Neil Wilson Publishing. Preface by Ian Buxton. 163pages, reference sources and bibliography ISBN 978-1-906476-09-0
I have read many books on whisky and occasionally I come across one that fits into the ‘must read’ category. Bad Whisky is one of them. This book both entertains and educates. It serves as a warning to how changeable the world is, it shatters myths of the promoted image of friendly tartan clad distillers and cheery, friendly landlords bringing you the best quality dram.
This book is an eye opener to the world before good trading standards and quality control. It gives insights into the culture of the late 1800’s but in a way that makes it relevant to today.
Even if not a whisky lover there is a broad level of knowledge that makes it accessible to all. Edward Burns cleverly links the adulteration of children’s sweets and milk to that of whisky. There is scientific, journalistic, political and cultural commentary blended to perfection.
One aspect of this book that I really liked is the way that the story develops along the thread of events around the publications from and replies to the North British Daily Mail’s report on the state of whisky served in the legal and non legal drinking houses of Glasgow. Yes this book is factual and yes it is certainly well researched. To a large degree it is balanced and shows both sides of the fence that separated those who believed that adulteration did take place and those, who for whatever reason, did not.
Yet this book also serves as a defence of Dr James St. Clair Gray, to whom the book is dedicated. Dr Gray died at a young age and therefore had little time to defend his reputation and good name. It becomes clear in Edward Burns’ writing that he built an understanding and empathy for Dr Gray that borders on being ‘closeness’. Edward Burns wished to stand up for Dr Gray and defend him, he did not fail in doing so.
Dr Gray’s work helped to shake up the whisky industry and take it to a level where we can have the good stuff and this book reveals how we should all be thankful to him.
I have suggested that this book is relevant to today – in what way? Surely adulteration of whisky doesn’t happen any more. Well I have certainly tasted whisky that has not tasted how it should, as well as whisky that has had a misleading label. Maybe I am not in the best position to comment but there are problems still very much alive on the global whisky scene. One of these is that of counterfeit whisky.
I give this book 4 stars, my only negative comment is that this is a book where the reference section needs to be more detailed and a good glossary would have been very helpful.