I have both the pleasure and frustration of being one of Michael Jackson’s many editors. He is too much in demand as a writer and speaker, is always on the road, and I mentally call voodoo jinxes down on the other editors who are competing for his finished material when I am waiting for mine.

It adds insult to injury that another beverage jostles for the senior beer writer’s time: the most demanding rival for Jackson’s attention over the past year has been “the whiskey book.” Now, Michael Jackson’s Whiskey has been published, and I have to grudgingly admit it is a beautiful book: comprehensive, lavishly illustrated and gracefully designed out, as only publishers DK can.

The book is a shared work, with Jackson fronting a team of nine writers—whiskey experts all. It opens with 23 short but detailed essays that will bring the budding enthusiast up to speed on the world of whiskey, from the effects of climate and geology, to the essential ingredients and processes, to the role of whiskey in literature.

The bulk of the book is devoted to a distillery-by-distillery tour of whiskey-making countries. Predictably, Scotland leads, with pages of wind-swept locations and vivid descriptions of their whiskies. Ireland, the United States, Canada, and Japan follow, and then some surprising minor players. Mekhong whiskey, anyone?

Jackson’s writing (always authoritative) is never geeky because, at his core, he’s fascinated with why we drink, where we drink, whom we drink with and who makes this experience possible. Whiskey gives the reader a mouth-watering portrait of a complex beverage, firmly embedded in its very human context.

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