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on 9 July 2004
This review applies to the 5th edition and no other.

The first thing I noticed about this new edition of Michael Jackson's book is how much heavier it is than the previous printing, 20% heavier according to my scales. It is also in a slighty larger format. If this book ever was considered a 'pocket book', it should not now be treated as such.

The book is split into three distinct sections: an introduction, tasting notes, and some notes about non-Scottish malts and advice on tasting.

The introduction section is thrice the length of that for the previous edition. It covers the origin and history of the whisky industry, and discusses styles, wood finishes and information about what to look for on the label. There is a sizeable section concerning the affects of the environment on the final taste of whisky. Much ground is covered, not to mention granite, heather, peat and seaweed. Jackson moves swiftly through these subjects and the text doesn't get bogged down in technical detail. The seasoned malt enthusiast will probably find little new here, but the newcomer will hopefully find it of interest.

The bulk of the book is the tasting notes for malt whiskies, and every working distillery and some closed distilleries are covered. Each distillery gets about a page of text giving brief details of its origins and recent happenings. Unlike the previous edition, there are no pictures of the distilleries in this section. This is a pity as Jackson often refers to architectural features, and it would have been worthwhile if some of these had been illustrated; the musical clock at Tormore being an example. For each bottle sampled, the author gives his opinion of: colour, nose, body, palate and finish. He also gives most samplings a score out of 100. Some writers have criticised the idea of awarding scores; I would say that it is a tool which can be useful provided the reader is aware of how the score has been arrived at and also has some appreciation of what the scorer considers 'best'. Jackson shows appreciation for fruity and flowery Lowlanders and for the lighter honeyed creamy Speysiders; but it is the powerful peaty products of Islay, the smoky Highland Parks from Orkney and the volcanic Talisker from Skye which tend to get the highest scores. If these are not your tipple then you may need to tread carefully when following Jackson into the higher scoring malts.

Macallan receives no less than 24 pages of tasting notes, this is the result of the distillery releasing a series of vintage bottlings over the last couple of years. While these may be of some interest, I am not sure just how useful these really are. The bottlings were very limited and the cost ranged from several hundred pounds up to several thousand pounds. This generosity to Macallan has come at a cost, and the distillery which seems to have borne the brunt of this is Bowmore. Tasting notes for this wonderful distillery are limited to "expressions with no age statement", I thought this omission might have been a mistake, but I have been informed by the publisher that "Although the 5th edition was 112 pages longer, we were still not able to include all of the malt whiskies tasted since the last edition".

The final section includes a brief overview of non-Scottish malts, probably too brief to be of any real use, and a piece concerning glassware and dilution for tasting. I think this latter piece might have fitted better in the introduction section just before the tastings, being right at the back it may well be missed.

There are several books on the market giving tasting notes on malt whiskies which are revised every four or five years. Most of these books give only one or two tastings per distillery, covering those bottles that will be found in the larger supermarket or the local wine shop. Should you be lucky enough to be visiting a more specialist retailer, in search of something special for a friend, or better still for yourself, then you may find that these books will offer little guidance about the more aged malts on offer, or those from the independent bottlers. This is where Jackson's book comes into its own. He will not desert you on such premises, he will offer help and advice when choosing that more exotic (we hope) and (probably) more expensive malt.

I have one or two minor gripes about this new edition, but this is still the first book to turn to for the malt drinker.

Update January 2008
Sadly Michael Jackson died last year (2007) so this is likely to be the last edition of this book, under his stewardship anyway. Things don't stand still in the world of malt whisky, nevertheless this is still a very useful and comprehensive book, well worth adding to the bookshelf.
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on 12 October 2015
Nicely matured, since the first edition in 1989, this new distillation of whisky knowledge is informative and well presented. On opening, that wonderful smell of a new print hits you on the nose. This hardback edition is a good size - slightly taller than a paperback, but a bit less wide. At 448 pages it has a certain gravitas, but the content includes many pictures, and the reviews are easy reading : good to dip into as you sip one malt, whilst researching the next. These days, most reviews of alcohol evoke flowers, fruits, and umpteen other scents. This reference is no exception; but might one or two of the comments be a bit tongue in cheek - e.g. the one with the finish with a faint whiff of Elastoplast?
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2007
I'm giving this book 4 stars for Michael Jackson's top notch knowledge and good descriptions of Scotch Malt Whiskies. In the late 90's, an earlier edition of this book was a fine guide for me as I explored the world of whisky beyond that which was available on the supermarket shelf.

Nowadays though, I don't really find his writing as relevant as it once was, as my tastes have branched out beyond the confines of Scotland. While the Scottish distilleries are still my favourite and are covered in this book great detail, other countries are given a brief mention at best (7 pages out of 448). The Japanese are currently producing some excellent (and award winning) whiskies, and I feel they merit more of a mention than a few paragraphs.

I also disagree with his 'scoring' of whiskies. One thing I've learned over the years is that everyone's tastes are different. While some are fans of the lighter Lowlands, others prefer a heavy hitting Islay, or maybe a rich and sherried Speyside. This is one of the things that makes malt whisky tasting so enjoyable - tasting all the different varieties and finding out what your preference is. I feel that by scoring whiskies, some people will be steered away from a drink that they might really enjoy. By all means present the reader with a description, but allow them to make their own judgement.

All in all, this book is a good beginners introduction to the world of Scotch Malt Whisky, but for the enthusiast or someone who fancies tasting something from beyond Scotland's borders I'm sure there are better books out there.
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on 16 April 2009
Despite being almost 5 year's old this book is still an essential purchase for the whisky-buff. Collectors will appreciate the older labels reproduced inside and the extensive tasting notes can be compared to current bottlings for any differences that have occurred in the passing years.

Unfortunately we may never see a completed 6th Edition despite efforts to get other writers to finish the work that Michael left behind. If this is the case then the legacy will live on in this edition.
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on 19 October 2015
This Compendium is especially useful for any hardy malt Whisky Conniseur - always have it with you when selecting your particular tipple for that celebration which you are holding over the Week-end !!!
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on 9 November 2009
I use this book regularly, but it comes with a series of caveats:

* I do not like the scoring system. Almost all the reviews are between 75 and 85 (with very few being in the nineties). In such a reduced range, what do scrores mean. More to the point, can one really score food or art ? A bad idea in my opinion.
* Do not expect to find most entry-level bottlings. Most reviews are of bottles well over 100$, and quite hard to find. This is not a book to "discover" Whisky, this is a book to investigate Michael Jackson's personal preferences.
* Speaking of preferences, this book's ratings are heavily biased towards peated malts (which I also like, but it's a very personal choice).
* This is not a book about Whisky, this is a book about "Scotch Whisky". Don't get me wrong, Scotch Whisky is still my overall favorite, but if you are interested in Whiskies of any other country than Scotland (Japan, the US, Canada, ...) you will be sorely disappointed with this book.

Again, I often refer to this book, but for arcane points of interest. For any beginner or advanced beginner who wishes to expand his/her horizons without loosing his/her shirt, I highly recommend Whisky Classified..
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on 26 November 2015
This 7th edition, edited by prominent whisky writers trying to continue Jackson's 'enjoyment' focused approach to drinking whisky, is an enjoyable, laid back and interesting book for both casual readers and anoraks. Although the whiskies are also rated out of 100, as it has in the past, it comes across as a more enjoyable, more accommodating reference book than others using similar scores, where there is a wiff of stamp collecting and dellusions of omnipotence. Some things in the book to watch out for. As the authors state in their introduction, it is not all inclusive - given the number of malts available - not surprising. Gone from previous versions, for example are pages and pages of vintage Macallan bottlings. These are reviewd in many other sources elsewhere, but is a big ommission. Also In a book updated in 2015, I don't expect to be told that such and such a project is due for completion in 2012!! A book to be enjoyed, like whisky, at one's own pace and to one's own taste.
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on 23 December 2015
This little volume is a MUST for any serious Malt Whisky Conniseur, carried with you if going on a Whisky Tasting, or indeed looking for something to try out ....
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on 23 February 2014
An excellent reference book, a classic - you might need another lifetime to tick them all off...........but you should try
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on 21 January 2016
This is the essential book for those venturing into malt whisky. Beautifully illustrated and written. I urge you to buy it.
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