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on 27 July 2008
In April of 2007, I spent a fortnight in the UK, including a week in Scotland. The best part of the vacation was three days spent on Islay, which is a gorgeous island with great whisky and a rich history. I've never been a big fan of travel books, but luckily stumbled on Jefford's study of Islay and read it cover to cover. Jefford is a terrific writer and researcher, weaving the geology, history and culture of the island in the warp of beautifully-sourced studies of each of the island's distilleries. It's simply a terrific book that anyone traveling to Islay (or wishing to) should read before their trip. Oh, and Islay is a fantastic place to visit.
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on 18 May 2011
Whisky aficionados who enjoy reading about the beverage they are consuming may want to consider adding this work to their library. Why?

For starters, author Andrew Jefford offers some good background information about whisky distillation. His description of wash and spirit still design is relatively brief yet quite informative. I learned more with his words than from many of the other, more expensive, books in my library. While knowing the ingredients and brewing process is pretty basic, the narrative is interesting and refreshing. Then, he covers distillation in a way that other whisky writers just don't quite match.

Turning to the core of the book - about Islay. Quite impressive! He's sandwiched descriptions of each distillery in between background material about Islay. About as close as one can get without actually going!

The descriptions of each distillery were quite thorough with both history and information on the style used by each. Jefford helps the reader to understand that whisky is an art rather than science. There is so much that we don't understand about what goes into a memorable whisky - and Jefford helps us to understand why through his descriptions of each operation. The water is often cited by distillers - not necessarily according to what he writes. The amount of peat, the grain and so on all may or may not be a factor and this book gives a good feel for that reality. At the end of each distillery's chapter is a list of hard facts - quite useful when making comparisons or considering whether to purchase a particular whisky. Also interesting is that he is able to be critical about a distillery without being negative - if the reader isn't reflective some good points might even be overlooked.

The chapters about Islay's people, history and geography are valuable - whether one does or doesn't visit this unique part of Scotland.

My greatest complaint is the book's lack of a detailed map or maps. Fortunately, my copy of the Islay Ordnance Survey map (#60) made up for that lack. Without the detailed ordnance map the oh-so-many different places that Jefford mentions/describes can get jumbled in the mind. I recommend having a copy of the ordnance map if you like detail.

One last thought, I usually inhale books at the rate of several a week. It was impossible with this one - it took me about three weeks to get through "Peat Smoke and Spirit". I didn't mind and never felt like giving up. It was just that there is so much to digest. I'm not complaining - to me that's the sign of an excellent work. I must confess that I skipped over some of his vocabulary - usually I run to my dictionaries. He seems to be using colloquialisms that have yet to find their way into dictionaries - well, ok - that's his style.

So thank you very much Andrew Jefford, you've brought me almost as much pleasure as has a glass of Ardbeg distilled in the `60s! I recommend this book!
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on 27 November 2005
As a single malt enthusiast and someone who spent every school holiday in Scotland as a child, I was pleasantly surprised to find a whisky book that wasn't just a list ot tasting notes but gave some insight into the history and environments of the distilleries, and goes some way to show how each whisky can have such individual characteristics though all be made from malted barley.
This book (accompanied by a dram or three of the whiskies described therein!) somehow manages to transport the reader to Islay and its distilleries from the comfort of your cosy armchair, perfect for a reading buy the fire on a winters day.
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on 11 April 2008
I bought the book, because I plan to go to the island in a few months.
Of course you try to educate yourself about the place you go to.
I've seldom come across a book that touches all sides of the "Queen" of the Hebrides : History, weather, people, landscape and above all the whiskies.
Very knowledgeable about the distilleries (how did he get those inside stories)?
I think I'm better prepared now to travel to Islay. A truly wonderful book.
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on 25 July 2005
What an absolute joy to read! From the opening chapter, as the author takes us flying from Glasgow to Islay, you feel that you are going to be in inspiring and enthusiastic company. Surely this is what travel writing should be all about?
At all levels the book is satisfying, whether or not you are a whisky fan or a Hebridean island traveller. Being both, I was predisposed to enjoy the book, though was surprised at just how much I did.
Andrew has an engaging and obvious enthusiasm for this unique island, which comes across on nearly every page. Each of Islay's seven current distilleries are dedicated a chapter each, but the book is much more than whisky. History, nature, peat, shipwrecks and even the weather are discussed and enthused over, with such relish that I even found myself (absurdly) becoming nostalgic for those notorious wet, grey Scottish seasons.
His research has been excellent. As well as fascinating and informative, it is often amusing and quite touching. The book would surely inspire even an ardent teetotaller to have at least a taste at the various Islay malts; and inspire any rain- soaked visitors to give this beautiful Scottish island another chance.
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on 1 October 2009
This book has benn on the desk next to my bed since I got it a year ago. A fantastic presentation of Islay, the history both of the island and of each one of the distilleries and of Whisky i general. I have learned a lot about the poduction process, what influence on the nose and the taste, and what several well known personalities feel about Islay Whisky.

Good buy :-)
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on 18 July 2007
This book is a real mine of information for all those interested in Islay and Islay Whiskies. The image on the front cover is from the Number 1 vaults at Bowmore ([...]) looking over Loch Indaal to Bruichladdich both fine Malts!
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on 4 September 2013
Do you love Islay whisky and want to know more about the distilleries and the context of the island? This is the book to read. A lot of information, well researched with lots of details, so not a quick read. Good thing it's very well written.

Every distillery open at the time of writing is reviewed in detail. The chapters on the distilleries are intersected with chapters on all others aspects of the island, making for anything but a monotonous reading experience.

I read the book after a two day visit to Islay, visiting 4 distilleries in that short time. It felt like repeating the visit but staying much longer. After the last page I felt I knew the place like home...
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on 20 November 2014
This is a wonderfully detailed book in terms of the bigger picture of Islay and its Whiskies. This is not a 'dip in and out' book or perhaps as anecdotal or humourous as others on the subject but there are plenty of those around. There is a gentle humour runs through this book which is texturally rich in portraying the history of the land, its people, its flora and its fauna all interleaved with a whole chapter dedicated to each of the Isle's distilleries. Andrew Jefford has clearly spent a great deal of time (lucky for some!) researching and getting to know each of the distilleries and its people. Each dedicated chapter manages to capture the individuality of each distillery and has plenty of facts, a few secrets and lots of stats to please those who take delight in knowing such things as 'how many thousand gallons are used and at what temperature in a second wash'! Fascinating to some but for me Whisky is all about the smell, the taste and the whole experience, and AJ is both lucid and imaginative in his descriptions of all. The writer succeeds in getting across the passion and dedication of those striving for perfection in the industry and presents a compelling case for both visiting Islay and tasting all the Whiskies it has to offer. Overall a quite detailed book, very informative and instructive yet at the same time passionate and inspriring. Oh to be 'Westering home' once more.
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on 9 March 2014
I've never been to Islay before but have always loved its whiskies. This beautifully written, wise and heartfelt book has made me want to visit the island as a matter of urgency - the last week has been spent looking at accommodation and transport websites. There can surely be no better recommendation for this genre-hopping, meticulously researched guide to Islay's whiskies, history and people.
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