Book Review: Whiskey – The Final Edition by Ulf Buxrud

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Ulf Buxroud requires no introduction among many whiskey connoisseurs; as a whiskey educator and ‘Keeper of the Quaich’, his expertise and advice have informed several generations of enthusiasts through lectures, guided tastings and several books. The last and last of these literary contributions is “Whisky – The Final Edition”, a book focused not on the generalities of distillation, nor even on a specific regional style as was the case in his previous work “Japanese Whisky”. . On the contrary, it has a much more acute scope, exploring a single series of 54 whiskeys designed by Hanyu Distillery in Saitamaken Prefecture in Japan – but not bottled and released until many years later, by an entirely different company.

The story is, in a word, fascinating. Full of ups and downs, losses and gains, and a handful of failures and redemptions, the story follows Ichiro Akuto’s Playing Card series from still to market. The whiskey itself was produced, as noted above, by Hanyu Distillery from the period 1983-2000, when the distillery was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell its equipment and stock to Toa Shuzo, a sake maker. The original plan was to turn the unsold whiskey into shochu, but by a stroke of luck, or perhaps fate, the sale was overseen by Ichiro Akuto, grandson of Hanyu Distillery founder Isouji Akuto. Ichiro insisted on bottling the old stock, now fully aged and ready for market, giving it his name and creating the Ichiro’s Malt Playing Card series.

Whiskey – The Final Edition by Ulf Buxrud (image via Austin Scarberry)

There’s a lot more to the story, of course, but even taking into account the finer details, the show’s story takes a back seat to the spectacle and admiration that Buxrud rightly accumulates on the whiskey. The bulk of the text is devoted to stunning full-page photos and analyzes of each entry in the series, with technical data such as year of distillation, year of bottling and cask number accompanied by Buxrud’s personal tasting notes.

The real joy of the book is in these pages. Buxrud’s expertise and wealth of experience shines through, regardless of his personal opinion of the whiskey in question, and I could easily recommend the book solely as a resource for a whiskey lover to expand their vocabulary and jargon of tasting. I’ve always thought that the mark of an honest and knowledgeable taster is the bizarre specificity of their descriptors, and Buxrud does not disappoint in this regard. Some of my favorites include: “Sulphurous Note from a Recently Fired Glock”, “Worn Leather Like a Seat in an Old Morgan”, “Treacle Coated Dark Fruit” and “A Trail of Smoke from a Distant Bonfire” , which is distinct, apparently, from “smoke from a wood fire”.

Several brief sections follow the tasting notes, offering cursory reviews of unofficially bound whiskey produced by Ichiro Akuto, a beginner’s guide to spotting counterfeits and frauds, and information about the famous auction where a full set of maps to play sold for a record $1,520,000. usd. They are nice additions, although a little less interesting than the history of the series’ conception or the tasting notes.

I enjoyed this book, but I would be very disappointed if I did not mention the one glaring problem that persists throughout: the text is riddled with typos, grammatical errors, or obvious inconsistencies. The first twenty pages contain most of the background of the Playing Card series and much of the total text of the book. They also contain, in my opinion, 61 editorial errors. I should add that I arrived at this sum on a very brief overview, and there are probably several others that have escaped me. To be clear, I would certainly never call the book incomprehensible. On the contrary, I felt frustrated that there were words here from a man with expertise and education on a subject that interests me greatly, words that did not accurately represent his knowledge and insight, but rather distracted of them. If an editor had made another pass (or two), the book would go from enjoyable to commendable.

“Whisky – The Final Edition” is a delightful read and could certainly find a place on any whiskey fan’s coffee table, but the editorial mishaps are hard to ignore. Accordingly, I would find it difficult to encourage anyone to buy the book for themselves. Still, with gorgeous photography and a short but compelling story, I’ll be more than happy to show it to guests and use it to spark a conversation.

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