The Instant Scotch Whisky Library

Charlie Maclean talks to Isabel Graham-Yooll about the Instant Scotch Whisky Library

The Instant Scotch Whisky Library

The remarkable Maclean Foundation Charity Whisky Auction is underway with the aim to raise more than £60,000 for the Maclean family’s new clean water charity. One of the lots is an ‘Instant Scotch Whisky Library’ an outstanding collection of 40, primarily first edition, whisky and spirits books donated from the personal libraries of 15 of the world’s leading whisky writers, including Gavin Smith, Dave Wondrich, Ingvar Ronde, Ian Buxton, Alice Lascelles, Nicholas Morgan, and Charles Maclean.

The Maclean Foundation was founded by World Record-breaking trio Ewan, Jamie and Lachlan Maclean alongside their dad, author and whisky expert, Charles Maclean MBE, to raise funds for clean water projects through adventures and collaboration with the whisky industry.

Charles Maclean MBE, who starred as Rory Macallister in Ken Loach’s award winning film ‘The Angels’ Share’, allied his Scotch whisky industry friends to donate a collection of rare and highly collectable spirits for the auction, to raise funds for the charity. He explained how the auction came about: ‘All the items have interesting stories. Some are very rare and highly collectable, although some lots are easily affordable – appealing to consumers as well as collectors and investors. The provenance of every item is flawless.

‘The auction is unusual in many respects. Assisted by other trustees, who have or had long involvement with the Scotch whisky industry, we approached a number of friends and colleagues, and they have been hugely generous.

‘The funds raised from this outstanding and unique auction will allow the charity to get off the ground and to start having an impact through the provision of clean water.’

I had a quick chat with Charlie about the new charity, and the Instant Scotch Whisky Library in particualar:

First tell me about the Maclean Foundation, what does it mean to you?

The Scotch whisky industry has been so good to me over the 42 years I have been involved, and a charity which involves the industry in this worthwhile project – essentially to convert whisky into clean water for communities which do not have access to the same – will showcase the industry’s compassion and generosity, and should attract a lot of interest on social media and in the press. The phenomenal support from individuals donating bottles and my fellow whisky writers donating books is heart-warming.

What is special about these books and writers? Why did you choose these particlar books to go into the Instant Scotch Whisky Library?

The world community of whisky writers is a close one. We know, respect and support each other. The writers we approached chose the books they wanted to donate. Almost all are signed first editions.

Do you have a special personal connection to these books and writers?

All are friends. Some very close friends.

What was the first whisky book you ever read? Is it still in your own Scotch whisky library?

“The Whiskies of Scotland” by R.J.S. McDowell (1967) – bought that year from the school shop; now a classic of its kind. I still have the copy!

And the best book?

So difficult to say. I have much affection for Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart’s “Scotch“, a timeless classic first published in 1951. And of course, anything by the magisterial Rory Macallister, the man with the golden pen.

What makes a good Scotch whisky book?

Good whisky books are well researched, well written and ideally contribute something new to the subject, or a new angle or approach to it.

What makes a bad whisky book?!

Bad whisky books are the opposite to this, often over-influenced by marketing considerations.

What prompted you to begin writing about whisky?

A commission from Bell’s to write a leaflet, in 1981.

And which whisky book do you wish you had written?

Alfred Barnard’s “Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom of course. I’ve spent my career following in his footsteps… now such an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the industry.

Is there a special connection between whisky writing and whisky drinking?

There should be, and most writers enjoy a dram, but I know of one who is tee-total! Incidentally the author Gavin Maxwell (a whisky writer in only one sense) had a strict writing schedule – in his office every morning between eight and noon, during which time he would consume a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label. Then a spot of lunch.

What are you proudest of?

Well I’m very proud of my boys, but did you mean “which book?” Perhaps “Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History“, which took 5 years to research and nearly bankrupted me, but won the James Beard Award Best Book Wines And Spirits 2005 – the leading gastronomic awards in America. It is long out of print. I have donated my last copy to the auction.

What other question do you wish I’d asked about the Instant Scotch Whisky Library?

Can’t think of anything!

Very many thanks for your significant support for the boys’ project.

Visit the Maclean Foundation Charity Auction.