When whisky writer Dominic Roskrow was approached by publishers Dorling Kindersley about putting together a new whisky book, he says it didn’t take him long to decide to take on the project.
“It is my sixth book in six years and I felt that if I had nothing to say I wouldn’t do it. That would have been tough, because it’s hard getting books, and turning them down is stupidity itself. But I knew what I wanted to do,” he says.
Working with fellow whisky author, Gavin D. Smith, the goal became to put together something that would be a bit different.
“I’m sick and tired of reading the same old stuff cut and pasted from some ancient Michael Jackson or Jim Murray book. So Gavin and I set out to work as journalists would – carrying out fresh interviews where possible, and treating each entry like a little piece of new editorial.”
The result is the Whisky Opus, a heavy-duty hardcover encyclopaedia on all things whisky. The book includes quotes from interviews with people in the whisky industry talking about everything from what makes a great whisky to why oak casks are used, before moving into a country by country outline of every whisky distillery they could find. It’s extensive, but laid out in a well-spaced, picture heavy format that has neat boxes on each right side page (such as: ‘Whisky Tales’ which feature tidbits about the featured distillery) and enough information to keep you occupied through the winter months.
Bar the sections on Germany and Canada, for which they brought in local experts (in the form of Jurgen Deibel and Davin de Kergommeaux), all research was done by Gavin and Dominic.
“I was out of depth on both [countries] really – it’s hard crossing the language barrier in the former, and Canada doesn’t do self promotion well and I needed to get someone who could get them to open up,” explains Dominic.
This was one of the main challenges he and Gavin faced. The other was getting publishers to take risks, including dropping the main section on ‘how whisky is made’ since he felt this had been done before too many times.
Creating a different feel for the book was the main goal, and the sections asking people on the ground questions about the industry is one of the things he is most proud of.
“It worked extremely well, has influenced the whole feel of the book, and offers something genuinely different. A lot of the positive response has centred around this,” he adds.
But, despite all the in-depth research, the forward moving pace of the whisky industry means sections could already be updated.
“I did the most thorough section ever published on Australia but already there are even more distilleries. And by the end of this year I’ll be in a position to do a similar section on Sweden, which hardly features in this book. It may well need updating much sooner than whisky books used to,” he says.
That momentum in the whisky industry is what, he believes, helps propel the desire for new reading material for whisky lovers.
“I’m not sure the whisky world really needed another whisky book – or at least not in the format [the publishers] DK originally suggested. But publishing’s all about demand and there seems to be an insatiable demand for whisky and whisky books – I think there’s a feeling that there are a lot of newbies out there and interest has never been higher,” he says.
The book, he says, is getting the best feedback of any he’s produced before, which he is glad of.
“If I’m honest I’m really delighted that people like it – it’s all well and good being the Liam Gallagher of whisky and the Paul Morley of brown spirits, but it’s nice to get a little bit of respect too,” he adds.
But while this might be his ‘opus’ Dominic says he still has much to focus on, including the updated release of his 2010 book, World’s Best Whiskies, which will feature a flexi cover and will be released in seven languages.
Whisky Opus is a coffee table book in its truest form. Its attractive cover makes it right for display, but it’s also one to pick up and flick through whenever you’ve got a spare minute. It reminds me of my school days, when big books abounded and I’d sit for hours fascinated by encyclopaedia listings and my textbooks (I was a strange child and this was before Wikipedia). And while the field of whisky literature is full of fascinating reads just now, I’m happy to add this one to my collection. You can never have too much whisky reading material after all!
Whisky Opus is in stores and online now at a retail price of £30.