From Mariner To Maniac, Ulf Buxrud, A Connoisseur Of Global Standing

Pioneer whisky influencer, Ulf Buxrud, talks to Isabel Graham-Yooll about whisky, books and tastings.

From Mariner To Maniac, Ulf Buxrud, A Connoisseur Of Global Standing

Ulf Buxrud was born in Norway in 1942 and is now perhaps best known for the two books he authored, Rare Malts, Facts Figures and Taste, and Japanese Whisky, Facts, Figures and Taste. He also contributed to DK’s Eyewitness Companion ‘Whisky’ (the Asian segment) and the first issue of The Malt Whisky Year Book (‘as a matter of fact I inspired the publisher/author to start his successful journey’). His greatest contribution to the industry was probably as an educator, well before the era of online influencers. During a 15 year period Ulf Buxrud donated his time free of charge to lead structured whisky tastings in southern Sweden. ‘Quite a few passed through my lectures’ Ulf told me ‘more than 1,500 plus, at last estimate.’

Before we got stuck in I began by asking Ulf how he first became interested in whisky:

It goes back to my formative years. For the 1957 summer recess from school my parents suggested I spent it on the waves. I assume they expected me to return disciplined as I was a bit unruly!

Being invited with some shipmates to the British Social Club in the harbor city of Abadan in southern Persia, now Iran, I encountered whisky for the first time. Got hooked. And I still am.

Later in life, after a sojourn into the world of wine, I applied the systematic behaviour learned from my wine interest on whisky. Meaning from structured tastings to selective collecting. Hence, to enable tastings similar to the wine world vertical ones, the producers of whisky series became of primary interest to me to collect (Rare Malts, Playing Card series, The Macallan etc.)

You became best known for your endeavours to document whisky facts and figures. What whisky achievement are you most proud of?

Compiling the complete Japanese Playing Card series and being first to recognize and include the four initial test bottlings in a complete series. These four were later duplicated and reissued for the series. It makes the true complete series to consist of 58 versions, not 54. The incomplete 54 series is today the most expensive series in the world and sells for approximately £500,000 plus. I have also tasted all 58.

I’ve been admiring the contents of your library catalogued on your website…can I buy your book collection from you?

I am planning to make arrangements for a donation to a Swedish University’s research library. It is one of the largest in the world housing the world’s cookbooks and drink related literature. There is a place reserved for whisky literature as far as I know.

By the way, the library also includes old Christie’s whisky auction catalogues, all years of John Hansell’s pre-glossy US Whisky Advocate (and several issues of the glossy ones from the first years) plus the UK Whisky Magazine all stored elsewhere. A warning though, that list is incomplete and I have not been updated the last ten years and it carries a lot of misspellings.

It’s quite a substantial collection. Which if your whisky books is most precious to you?

It is a unique, glossy and luxury Japanese book portraying all ancient Macallans tasted by a local circle of Macallan fans. Published as a document for their members and hence hard to obtain. Being a Macallan disciple, the book is a must.

What other titles do you cherish most in your whisky book collection?

T.R. Dewar, A Ramble Around The Globe. It’s a first edition published in 1894.

Around The World. Printed in 1923, it is 448 pages. Most stories telling how certain titles was acquired are trivial [but this] oddity occurred however, a long time after I sought this title it was donated to my collection anonymously from UK soil according to the postmark.

Are there any books that you would particularly recommend for supporting a whisky collecting habit?

Valentino Zaggatti, aka The Blind Collector, The Best Collection of Malt Scotch Whisky, Volume I and II

Michael Moss and John Hume, The Making Of Scotch Whisky

Philip Morrice, The Schweppes Guide To Scotch

What about books for discovering early historic whisky facts?

Marcus Lafayette Byrn, The Complete Practical Distiller (1866)

J, Scarisbrick, Spirit Manual (1894)

P, Byrne, A Remedy For The Distilleries Of Ireland (1783)

Which whisky moment do you think you will be most remembered for by future generations of whisky enthusiasts?

My massive vertical tasting of The Macallan in 2002, the first of its kind according to trade press.  All in all, 53 versions of The Macallan plus a Highland Park 1953 were all from my own cellar, except the range from 1985 to 2002 which were all 75cl cask samples donated by The Macallan. There was an article in The Whisky Magazine Summer 2002 and it was described as “Without a hint of exaggeration, this was the most remarkable tasting of The Macallan ever staged.” It was the Golden Jubilee year so I opened the event by proposing a toast for the Queen with a Highland Park distilled the QEII Coronation year and bottled for the Silver Jubilee year.

It is well worth tracking down and reading the original article chronicling this event. The line-up of Macallans is astonishing and the attendance list reads like a who’s who of whisky establishment A-listers. It is reasonable to conclude that many of the celebrated opinions that have since been formed about The Macallan owe a great deal to what was tasted on that day…

I ended the interview by asking Ulf about the most significant changes he had witnessed over the years and he mentioned ‘the exploding and borderless establishments of boutique distilleries as well as larger operations’ he described this trend as ‘a focus shifter, from heritage and geographic signatures, to the ingenuity of the distiller’. And so, before we got too far down the rabbit hole of Japanese Whisky regulations, we said our goodbyes.

Ulfu Buxrud's library