Peat, Smoke and Spirit

A book review by Franz Scheurer


Peat, Smoke and Spirit is a portrait of Islay and its whiskies written by Andrew Jefford. This is a wonderful yarn if you simply like to be entertained, however, it is also a geographical, geological, history-rich travel guide of Islay and a terrific textbook for the budding as well as the serious Islay Whisky aficionado.


Andrewís knack for lyrical, poignant and catching descriptions is only surpassed by his ability to bring technical complexities down to simple truths. His brilliant description of what whisky is and how itís made is both comprehensive and easily accessible.


He suggests that the reader arm him or herself with a dram from each one of the distilleries he describes in detail, before proceeding to devour the relevant chapter. This is excellent advice!


I thought I knew a lot about Islay, its distilleries and whiskies, alas it seems I did not; at least not compared to the facts and lore presented by this gifted researcher and master raconteur. Your first glass will be an Ardbeg, followed by Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Laphroaig (letís hope youíre not a fast reader or youíre going to end up rather tipsy). He also tells us about silent stills at Newton, Daill and Lossit, Ardmore, Port Charlotte and of course Port Ellen (which we only lost in 1983).


You can easily visualise the harsh, windswept landscape, delight in the occasional peaceful, quiet, sunny and sheltered bay, feel the atmosphere of each distillery and, as you are led inside, smell and taste the drams. Andrew manages to describe the locals and life on this harsh island, where time stood still, that this book really is the next best thing to being there.


Andrew is not only knowledgeable, but heís opinionated and not shy to voice this. I do hope some of his thoughts are taken seriously by the folk responsible for producing Islayís wonderful whiskies.


I couldnít think of a better writer to capture the essence of Islay and suggest that no one who loves Islay whiskies can afford not to own this book.


Peat, Smoke and Spirit

Andrew Jefford

Published by Headline Book Publishing

ISBN 0 7472 2735 7