Whiskey and Philosophy: A Small Batch of Spirited Ideas (Philosophy for Everyone) Hardcover – 1 Oct 2009
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From the Back Cover
"After decades of cut–and–paste offerings on the subject, this book is a must–read for anyone interested in whisk(e)y—whether single malt, bourbon, or anything else—and all that makes it truly unique." — Jim McEwan , Production Director, Bruichladdich Distillery "Does being a philosopher require an appreciation of good whiskey or does having an appreciation of good whiskey make one philosophical? Whichever is the case, Whiskey & Philosophy makes for a thought–provoking and thirst–inducing read. Cheers!" — Chris Morris , Master Distiller, Woodford Reserve Distillery " Whiskey & Philosophy contains a panacea of spiritual pleasure waiting to be enjoyed and shared. Many books have been written about whiskey, but few take you as deep into its inner world. It is an enlightening journey, and one that crosses boundaries and opens new doors. This is indeed a book that unlocks a treasure chest of pure liquid gold to the whiskey enthusiast." — Richard Paterson , Master Blender, Whyte and Mackay Ltd. Whiskey & Philosophy explores the heart and soul of this heady potation in a lively collection of essays from philosophers, other academics, and whiskey writers. From the first reference to Scotch in 1494 in the records of King James IV of Scotland to Hillary Clinton tossing back that famous shot of Crown Royal during the 2008 campaign, this spirited book captures the history of whiskey, its various forms, and associated philosophical issues. The talk is lively, the opinions run high, and Whiskey & Philosophy is a satisfying blend. Open and enjoy. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Fritz Allhoff is associate professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University and a senior research fellow at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University. He is coauthor of "What Is Nanotechnology and Why Does It Matter?" and the editor or coeditor of numerous volumes, including "Wine & Philosophy", "Physicians at War", and "The Philosophy of Science".
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What is "Scotch" anyways? What is "whisky?" (Or "whiskey", if you prefer. A debate in and of itself.) These are some fundamental questions that have not really been asked. By law, Scotch must be produced in Scotland, but if you take all the same ingredients and techniques, move them to another country and produce a product that is indistinguishable and in fact superior to the original (as Japan did), what do you call it? How much can you change the ingredients before what in your bottle is no longer considered whisky? Can you add flavorings and colors as has been done to vodka? And what is meant by a "great" whisky? Isn't it just a question of personal taste? Is there such a thing as a perfect "Platonic" Manhattan, or is variety the spice of life? Is drinking whisky a feminist statement? And how does Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle factor into all this?
These, and more, are the kinds of questions asked in "Whiskey and Philosophy." In fact almost no stone is left unturned. Even the title, willfully choosing the "e" spelling denoting bourbon, is a conscious choice supported by debate. For too long, authors Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams say in the introduction, the American-made whiskeys like bourbon and rye have been considered lower-shelf than their overseas cousins the Scotch and the Irish. Bourbon was a drunkard's tipple, dumped in with coke to mask the taste, and not something to be praised alone. With the very title of the book that sought to change that.
There are five units in total, with several articles in each waxing historical, philosophical or political about the water of life. Some, like Andrew Jefford's "Scotch Whisky: From Origins to Conglomerates" go a long way to bursting some popular bubbles about Scotch whisky. Although appreciators like to pat themselves on the back for their refined tastes, but in reality 90% of scotch whiskey produced gets dumped into those distained blended Scotches which still account for the vast amount of sales of Scotch whisky. Only 10% is bottled and sold as Single Malt. The illusion of a hand-crafted product from wind-swept shores is also shattered with images of modern production facilities and a Master Distiller whose job involves more button-pushing on complex machines rather than nosing a glass and wistfully bidding goodbye to the Angel's Share. Other fantastic articles like Ian J. Dove's "What do Tasting Notes Tell Us?" talks about the subjective nature of all those "overtones of clove and heather" or "scents of fruit at the market" -type of talk you see in tasting books. Should we feel bad if we can't separate the sensations? Richard Menary thinks so, in his article "The Virtuous Whisky Drinker and Living Well" who makes the separation between "virtuous" drinkers who study the product and refine their skills, with those who merely imbibe for alcoholic pleasure. (A split I thought summed up very well in Chasing the White Dog when it was said that "sometimes I am tasting, but sometimes I am just drinking.")
Many of the articles on Scotch focused on Islay, which was fine with me as that is my favorite whisky region, but even then there is some myth-busting going on. Labels like Laphroaig are in fact owned by large spirit conglomerates like Fortune Brands, and while the whisky is distilled on Islay it is actually aged over on the mainland so there is very little opportunity for that "lashed by the sea" taste to creep in during the aging process. When you make your whisky choice, you are buying marketing and an image as much as you are buying the spirit itself.
Some of these essays got me thinking. Some of them confused me. Some of them ticked me off. Which is exactly the correction reaction for a book like this. There were a few, I must confess, which bored me. Ada Brustein's "Women, Whiskey and Libationary Liberation" with its comments on feminism and whiskey drinking didn't do much for me, but I am probably not the target audience. "Whisky and the Wild" by Jason Kawall attempting to apply biological genus/species categorization and wondering whether diversity of product inherently improves the market took the metaphor a bit far for me, as did Dave Monroe's musings on the ability of whiskey to "make a man mean" in "Nasty Tempers: Does Whiskey Make People Immoral?" Christ Bunting's history of "Japanese Whisky" was one of my favorites, as was Harvey Siegel's personal memoir on finding the spot in Scoland "Where the Fiddich Meets the Spey."
"Whiskey and Philosophy" is part of a series of books, including Wine and Philosophy and Food and Philosophy. This is a truly spectacular book, and a gift to whisky aficionados everywhere. If there is someone who loves whisky, I couldn't imagine them not wanting to have a copy of "Whiskey and Philosophy" in their library.
The only possible complaint I have about this book is I wish I could have been a contributor instead of just a reader! You can't read something like this without your own ideas popping into your head. Ah well, maybe when it is time for "Sushi and Philosophy" to come out...
This book is, in short, a lot of fun! It takes the subject seriously but also has fun with it. In the Foreword, the editors note what is at stake in this book (Page ix): "[Whiskey] is far more than liquor in a bottle: it embodies tradition and high craft, social history and topography, poetry and song. In other words, it comes with a pedigree. . . ." This book focuses on the various aspects of whiskey. Part I explores the history and culture of whiskey; Part II considers the beauty and experience of whiskey; Part III examines, believe it or not, the metaphysics and epistemology of whiskey; Part IV looks at ethics and whiskey. The final part reverts to the other spelling, "Whisky: A Sense of Place."
The book is an edited volume with a score or so of authors of individual chapters. Let's take a look at some of these to get a sense of the contents and approach. The very first chapter in Part I is a nice history of Scotch Whisky. It asks whether Scotch whisky is an agricultural or industrial product, leading to an interesting analysis. It speaks of the role of casks, how to achieve consistency, and the role of the conglomerate in production and marketing. The very next chapter examines what to me seemed like an exotic issue--the terms provenance and authenticity with Scotch. However, the discussion is engaging and adds to one's understanding of the culture of whisky. The second part of the book concludes with another engaging piece, entitled "Where the Fiddich Meets the Spey: My Religious Experience." The metaphysics and epistemology of Whiskey? Dalton's chapter, "Heisenberg's Spirits: Tasting Is More Uncertain Than It Seems" digs into the question (Page 196): "Are some whiskeys better than others?" His answer turns on the next phrase, in which he invokes Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (from physics) (Page 196): "I will show in the following sections that the question encompasses not just the whiskey but also the person tasting it. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and how it relates to the taster/tasted system will be discussed." Again, much fun!
In the final section, there is a chapter on Japanese whiskey. What delights me about this is the use of postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard, to consider the evolution of Japanese whiskey. The simple fact that Baudrillard is used fascinates; the application of his concept of simulacra/simulations is enchanting!
All in all, a fun book. If interested in the many perspectives on whiskey, this is worth a read.
When I got the chance to receive this book, Whiskey & Philosophy, I jumped at it. I was eager to read it and to add it to my good-sized library of books on alcoholic beverages, Scotch in particular. This book is divided into five "Units" with three to five essays each, all by different authors. They are:
Unit 1 - The History and Culture of Whiskey
1. Scotch Whisky: From Origins to Conglomerates by Andrew Jefford
2. Provenance and Authenticity: The Dual Myths of Scotch by Ian Buxton
3. The Heritage of Scotch Whisky: From Monks to Surgeon Barbers by David Wishart
4. Women, Whiskey, and Libationary Liberation by Ada Brunstein
5. The Manhattan and You: Thinking about a Classic Whiskey Cocktail by Hans Allhoff
Unit 2 - The Beauty and Experience of Whiskey
6. Whiskey, Whisky, Wild Living, and the Hedonistic Paradox by Robert Arp
7. What to Drink? Why We Choose the Bourbons We Do by Mark H. Waymack
8. The Phenomenoloy of Spirits: How Do Whiskeys Win Prizes? by Douglas Burnham and Ole Martin Skilleas
9. The Ideal Scotch: Lessons from Hegel by Thom Brooks
10. Where the Fiddich Meets the Spey: My religious Experience by Harvey Siegel
Unit 3 - The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Whiskey
11. As a Good Bartender Might: Whiskey and Natural Kinds by Thomas W. Polger
12. Heisenberg's Spirits: Tasting is More Uncertain Than It Seems by Jerry O. Dalton
13. One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Buddhist Theory of No-Self by Steven Geisz
14. What Do Tasting Notes Tell Us? by Ian Dove
Unit 4 - Ethics and Whiskey
15. The Virtuous Whiskey Drinker and Living Well by Richard Menary
16. Nasty Tempers: Does Whiskey Make People Immoral? by Dave Monroe
17. Whiskey and the Wild: On Preserving Methods and Distilleries by Jason Kawall
Unit 5 - Whisky: A Sense of Place
18. Peat and Seaweed: The Expressive Character of Islay Whiskies by Kevin W. Sweeney
19. Japanese Whisky: "It's Called Queen George and It's More Bitched Up Than Its Name" by Chris Bunting
20. Whisky and Culture: From Islay to Speyside by Susie Pryor and Andrew Martin
The authors run the gambit from academics to lawyers and from ethicists to true whisky-industry professionals (one such professional, Andrew Jefford, is the author of one of my favorite books on Scotch "Peat Smoke and Spirit"). Another thing that I found interesting was the diversity of the authors' drinking habits. Some claim in their bios to only drink cocktails or wine, others are Whiskey connoisseurs and at least one is a teetotaler. This range of familiarity with either philosophy, whiskey, or both is reflected in the essays themselves. Some of my favorite chapters include: the forward by Charles McLean, Ian Buxton's "Provenance and Authenticity" and Harvey Siegel's touching story "Where the Fiddich Meets the Spey". There are many other excellent pieces but there are also a few that had me scratching my head, wondering why they were included at all since the authors' grasp of philosophical discourse greatly outweighed their appreciation for the other half the titular subjects, Whiskey. Still the book is a winner in my opinion, even if a couple of essays seemed to miss the point. The others showed a true love for and understanding of "the water of life".
This is a book that you just don't sit down and read through it in a week or so. I enjoyed it just as I enjoy my whisky, in a quiet room, at the end of the day, and a little at a time.
DISCLAIMER: Although I was not paid for this review the book was given to me by the editors in the hope that I would review it. Thank you!
My copy is brand new and already heavily dog-eared, expecting to be a lot more so as time goes by.
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