When Heather Greene first moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, with her husband, she didn’t know much about whiskey; she was a struggling musician who’d shown great promise in the states but overseas couldn’t get her label to pay what they owed.
“During one of my lavish pity parties, my husband turned to me and said that I really needed to do something. So I went out drinking,” she writes in the introduction of her new whiskey guide, “Whisk(e)y Distilled” (Viking Studio, $25).
She ended up getting hired on her first day in pursuit of a job by Scotsman Douglas McFarlane, manager of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a private membership bar for Scotch whisky lovers — and the gig that originated from a Help Wanted ad in the local paper quickly became much more. Greene is now a foremost expert on whiskey around the world, from Scotch to bourbon to rye to Irish whiskey and beyond, with a hefty resume surrounding whiskey to boot. She currently works as the director of the Whiskey School at the Flatiron Room in Manhattan and is teaching the same sort of lessons in the book as she does in her classes.
“My goal is to demystify whiskey and answer questions like: How do you taste whiskey? What are you supposed to smell? Do you swirl whiskey like wine? Can you put ice in a whiskey? Water? What does ‘small batch’ mean? Why is Johnnie Walker Blue so expensive? What is moonshine? Why does this bottle say non-chill filtered? How do you store it? Can you make money by investing in it? Can women drink it?” she writes in the introduction.
Throughout the book, she answers all those queries and more — it’s truly one of the more comprehensive books you’ll find on whiskey, written in a knowledgeable, engaging and accessible manner.
But sometimes hands-on instruction can be the best way to discover something new. Greene will be discussing “Whisk(e)y Distilled” at a book signing at BookPeople on Monday, and part of the event starting at 7 p.m. will feature a whiskey tasting. She might offer some of her tips on how to sample a new whiskey (and believe it or not, “All whiskey pretty much tastes the same,” she writes in the first chapter. “By taste, I mean our ability to detect sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami … through the receptors on our tongues. We simply cannot appreciate or even identify different whiskeys without using our noses.” So prepare your nose because you’ll need it).
Or, if you’ve already got a pretty solid background on whiskey, the book also offers a variety of cocktail recipes, both classic and original, such as the 37 West 26. The Scotch-based cocktail will have a smoky but sweet personality, “a little mysterious yet approachable,” and I’m including the recipe here.
37 West 26
2 dry figs
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 to 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1/2 oz. Drambuie2 oz. whiskey
Muddle the figs in a shaker with the simple syrup. Add the lemon juice, bitters, Drambuie, and whiskey and ice. Shake vigorously. Strain and serve on the rocks. Garnish with lemon peel, open fig and lemon round.
— “Whisk(e)y Distilled” by Heather Greene