Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm back...(kinda, sorta) to write positively(!) about Bad Whisky...the book, that is ;-)

OK, so I sort of abandoned this whole blog thing a bit sharpish about a year ago. As someone who used to earn a living writing and editing, I still haven't fully wrapped my head around the notion of writing NOT for pay. Frankly, I remain ambivalent. Yet, when I suddenly do get the hankering to write, I quickly (re)learn that I have been out of the professional writing game to long to simply jump back in as the mood takes. Thus, I'm back to this blog...(kinda, sorta) to write positively(!) about Bad Whisky...the book, that is ;-)

I just learned -- and this is moving me to take another crack at this blog -- that Neil Wilson Publishing (NWP) will be republishing a fantastic and important Whisky title that has fallen our of circulation -- Edward Burn's Bad Whisky. NWP, it is worth taking a moment to note, is one of the very best and most innovative small, independent publishers around, and the hands-down leader of the whisky genre. They publish some of the very best Scotch whisky writing in print.

Bad Whisky is, well, brilliant. It briefly, but succinctly, chronicles and beautifully brings to life the Victorian era scandal over the widespread publican adulteration of whisky throughout the UK. In 1860 Parliament, following the findings of an 1855 public hearing by the House of Commons about the adulteration of foodstuffs, passed an Act to protect the public good against food adulteration, both to protect the consumer's purse and person. The act was non-mandatory and so feckless.

So public was the flouting of this act, however, that further investigation was deemed warranted in almost every category of foodstuff -- dairy products, meat, beer, spirits, bread, tea, tobacco, candies, etc. In context, then, the widespread adulteration of malt whisky was hardly surprising. Common adulterants included, at the more pleasant end of the spectrum, additives such as burnt sugar, caramel and prune wine or, at positively dangerous end of the spectrum, methylated spirits, shellac gum, sulphuric acid, turpentine and boot polish.

The adulteration of whisky in Glasgow was, by 1872, so atrocious and so widespread, however, that it became subject to greater official scrutiny and public ire. Burns details how Doctor Charles Cameron, editor of the North British Daily Mail, and Doctor James St. Clair Gray of Glasgow University forced the issue and thereby altered the course of Scotch whisky history forever.

This new edition of Bad Whisky, the third to date, has, I gather been finessed a little. It is winging its way to me now, so I have not yet had a chance to actually review the new edition.

The old title was actually It's a bad thing whisky, especially BAD WHISKY published by Balvag Books in 1995 (ISBN: 0951202022); though it was known by the all-caps BAD WHISKY. My copy was picked up for me as gift in 2006 by my father-in-law who very kindly ventured out to The Whisky Exchange to get it for me.

This new third edition title, which also sports a new forward by the indefatigable and always reliable Ian Buxton, is Bad Whisky: The Scandal That Created The World's Most Successful Spirit. I trust their has been a little more exposition either by Burns or Buxton to help highlight the proper importance of this work in the history of the industry. In the edition I have, Burns asserts that it is important inside of a couple of lines. He is correct, obviously, but a little more exposition can't but help get the message across.

I hope to post more when the new version hits my mailbox.

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