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Classic Expressions

by Tom Cannavan, 09/07

The first two limited edition, numbered, facsimile volumes from whisky reprint specialists Classic Expressions are now available, and very handsome they look, too. The titles in question are Reminiscences of a Gauger (1873) by Joseph Pacy, and Ian MacDonald's 1914 title Smuggling in the Highlands, respectively introduced by Classic Expressions' partner Ian Buxton and our own Gavin D Smith. According to Buxton, "We plan to issue three rare, out-of-print whisky classics in the near future. These books are all but unobtainable in the antiquarian book market and cast invaluable light onto the history and heritage of whisky.

"Once again, we have opened an advance subscription list for Founding Subscribers who will benefit from a discounted price and whose name will appear in the volumes as a permanent record of their contribution to whisky publishing history. Each volume will be accompanied by a CD containing the complete contents of the title and, naturally, the edition will be limited and thus very collectable in its own right."

The forthcoming trio of new whisky titles includes Truths About Whisky (45.00), which was issued by the four principal Dublin distillers in 1878. As they note in the first chapter: "The four firms of whisky distillers by whom this book is published... have for the last two years been engaged in an endeavour to place some check upon the practices of the fraudulent traders by whom silent spirit, variously disguised and flavoured, is sold under the name of Whisky."

The 'silent spirit' being referred to is grain whisky and the book is an impassioned defence of malt. It includes details on 'The Qualities and Popularity of genuine Dublin Whisky,' 'The Growth of Silent Spirit into Sham Whisky,' 'Grogging' and 'Whisky Frauds.'

The volume is an important contribution to the great 'What is Whisky?' debate, which culminated in the 1909 Royal Commission, whose recommendations shaped the future direction of the distilling industry.

   The second title is Sir Walter Gilbey's 1914 Notes on Alcohol in Brandy, Whisky and Rum (25.00). This pamphlet is now extremely rare, with as few as half a dozen copies known to have survived. It provides a contemporary view of the importance of "THE POT STILL as used to produce the finest Malt Whiskies of the Highlands of Scotland and the finest Whiskies of Ireland," with an introduction by Ian Buxton.

Sir Walter Gilbey (1831-1914) was a distiller of note, and his family firm of wine and spirit merchants owned Gilbey's Gin and, at the time of this publication, Glen Spey, Strathmill and Knockando distilleries on Speyside. Regarding pot still distillation, he writes: "It is a curious fact that the heat of the fire also imparts a Flavour to the vaporised matter. The fire heat gives the Spirit a character which distinguishes it from Spirits distilled by the Patent Still. It imparts to the Spirit the character known as empyreumatic, which is easily recognised in the product of the Pot Still and which is quite absent in Spirit produced by the Patent Still."

The third new Classic Expressions' volume in preparation is the initial publication in a proposed Alfred Barnard Distillery Pamphlet series. Following the success of his 1887 volume 'The Distilleries of the United Kingdom,' Alfred Barnard was commissioned by various distillers to produce shorter promotional pamphlets.

There are five in total, and Classic Expressions will first publish the volume on Dalmore (30.00). This is described as 'A celebrated Highland distillery with a description of its surroundings,' and will feature a short biography of Barnard and an introduction to Dalmore by Gavin D Smith.


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