"Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch" is a truly great reference for the connoisseur and novice alike. This 5th edition includes descriptions and scores for over 1,000 single malt Scotches, about 250 more than the previous edition. It is a handsome volume, well-organized and printed on slick high-quality paper. The book has an attractive, durable cover instead of a dust jacket.
The "Complete Guide"'s first 80 pages are dedicated to educating the reader about whiskies in general and single malt Scotches in particular. Ten chapters discuss a useful variety of topics: trends, origins, definitions of terms used in labeling, the influence of the terrain on flavor, the characteristics of various regions, the significance of age, the woods used in casks, and a list of the companies that own Scotch distilleries, with some explanation of their history. The chapter on Flavours is particularly interesting. Michael Jackson is a good writer. His explanations are clear without being dull, and they will leave few questions in the minds of readers who are new to Scotch whisky.
The core of the Guide is the "A-Z of Single Malts". Michael Jackson explains his scoring system and the components of his tasting notes: colour, nose, body, palate, and finish. Then he launches into descriptions of more than 1,000 Scotches produced by, I believe, over 90 distilleries. A few paragraphs explain a little bit about each distillery's history and unique characteristics. The Producer (owner), Region, District, and Address are listed for each distillery, as well as telephone, e-mail and web site where it is available. I found that the palate and finish descriptions took some getting used to before I was able to reconcile Jackson's description to how the malt really tastes. He has a sensitive palate, which has become, or always was, keen to certain nuances. I'm sure everyone is different in that sense, but I picked up on his meaning after a while. His attempts to describe all aspects of the sensory experience unique to each whisky are most helpful and impressive. It is a pleasure to browse his descriptions. The book's single imperfection is the absence of pronunciation guides. The pronunciations of some distillery names are mysterious to those unaccustomed to hearing Scottish words.
In the last pages of the "Complete Guide', Jackson gives us some general information on whiskies from Ireland, the United States, Japan, Asia, and continental Europe. There are also brief descriptions of some vatted malts and Jackson's recommendations for how best to enjoy whisky.