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Book Review: Whisky – The Final Edition by Ulf Buxrud

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Book Review: Whisky – The Final Edition by Ulf Buxrud

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Editor’s Note: This book was provided to us as a review sample. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Ulf Buxrud requires no introduction among many whiskey connoisseurs; as a whisky educator and “Keeper of the Quaich,” his expertise and guidance has informed several generations of enthusiasts through lectures, guided tastings, and several books. The last and latest of these literary contributions is “Whisky – The Final Edition,” a book focused not on generalities of distillation, nor even a specific regional style as was the case in his previous work “Japanese Whisky.” Rather, it is much more acute in scope, exploring a single 54-whisky series crafted by Hanyu Distillery in Japan’s Saitamaken prefecture — 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 tale follows Ichiro Akuto’s Playing Card series from still to market. The whisky itself was produced, as stated above, by Hanyu Distillery from the period of 1983-2000, at which point the distillery was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell its equipment and stock to Toa Shuzo, a sake producer. The original plan was to reprocess the unsold whisky into shochu, but by a stroke of luck, or perhaps fate, the sale was overseen by Ichiro Akuto, grandson of Hanyu Distillery’s founder Isouji Akuto. Ichiro insisted on bottling the old stock, now fully aged and ready for market, naming it after himself and creating the Ichiro’s Malt Playing Card series.

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

There’s plenty more to the tale, naturally, but even taking the finer details into consideration, the series’ history takes a backseat to the sheer spectacle and admiration that Buxrud deservedly heaps on the whisky. Most of the text is devoted to truly gorgeous full-page photos and analyses of each and every entry in the series, with technical data such as year of distillation, year of bottling, and cask number accompanied by Buxrud’s own personal tasting notes.

The real joy in the book can be found in these pages. Buxrud’s expertise and wealth of experience shine through, regardless of his personal opinion of the whisky in question, and I could easily recommend the book purely as a resource for a whisky enthusiast to expand their vocabulary and tasting lingo. I have always thought that the mark of an honest and knowledgeable taster is in the bizarre specificity of their descriptors, and Buxrud does not disappoint in that regard. Some of my favorites include: “Sulphureous note as from a recently fired Glock,” “Worn leather like a seat in an old Morgan,” “treacle coated dark fruit,” and “a streak of smoke from a distant bonfire,” which is distinct, apparently, from “smoke from a log fire.”

Several brief sections follow the tasting notes, offering cursory examinations of unofficially related whisky produced by Ichiro Akuto, a beginner’s guide to spotting fakes and frauds, and information regarding the famous auction where a completed Playing Card series sold for a record-setting $1,520,00 USD. These are nice supplements, though slightly less interesting than the story of the series’ conception or the tasting notes.

I quite enjoyed this book, but I would be greatly amiss if I did not mention the one glaring issue that persisted throughout: the text is riddled with typos, grammatical errors, or plain inconsistencies. The first twenty pages contain most of the Playing Card series’ background and a large portion of the book’s total text. They also contain, by my count, 61 editorial errors. I should add that I arrived at this sum during a very brief skimming, and there are likely several more which escaped my notice. To be clear, I would certainly never call the book incomprehensible. Rather, I felt frustrated that here were the words of a man with expertise and education on a topic I hold a strong interest in, words that did not fairly represent his knowledge and insight but rather distracted from them. If an editor had made another pass (or two), the book would be elevated from enjoyable to recommendable.

“Whisky – The Final Edition” is a delightful read and could certainly find a home on any whisky fan’s coffee table, but the editorial mishaps are hard to ignore. As a result, I would find it difficult to encourage someone to purchase the book for themselves. Still, with gorgeous photography and a short yet compelling story, I will be more than happy to show it off to guests and put it to good use sparking conversation.

Austin Scarberry

Austin Scarberry is a writer and pastry chef based in Portland, Oregon. He uses his experience in the culinary industry to inform his reviews, letting the gentle thoughtfulness he learned from baking guide his work. Outside of The Whiskey Wash, he mainly writes poetry and fantasy/sci-fi. You can find his other work in Sci-Phi Journal or Oprelle Publications' poetry anthology "Matter — 2021 Edition II".

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