Home Interviews Chatting “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die” with Author Ian Buxton

Chatting “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die” with Author Ian Buxton

by Chris Perugini

I read a lot of whisk(e)y books each year. From historical guides to technical production to guides on every whiskey style imaginable, there’s plenty of reading material for the budding enthusiast these days. Within the context of whisky-related literature, an easy-to-digest numbered list-style book Like 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die seemed trivial to me at first. I thought to myself, “I’m not sure what I’ll get out of this book. I’ve probably tried most of these already.” Once I read through the introduction of the book, however, I realized that author and long-time whisky veteran Ian Buxton took an approach to recommending whiskies that parallels my own philosophy.

The 101 Whiskies list isn’t the “best” whiskies Buxton has ever tried nor is it a list of his 101 favorite expressions. The bottles in this list are whiskies that he recommends the reader tries because they are well made, relatively available to a global audience, and are bottles that represent good value. This list excludes limited editions, expressions designed for collectors, and single casks and is extremely mindful of pricing. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I were to create a list of my own, it would use very similar criteria.

I was fortunate to speak with Ian on a video chat in late 2022. I picked his brain about the new edition of the book and the state of whisky in general these days. As is often the case with me, what should have been a short interview turned into a wonderful, hour-long conversation about whisky. In the interest of brevity, I’ll spare the transcript of the full interview and summarize the conversation instead.

Ian’s 35+ year career has always been in the drinks industry (with a brief stint in beer early on) and quickly became focused on whisky after his family moved back to Scotland from London in the 1980s. Soon after, he became the Marketing Manager at Glenmorangie and later started his own consulting company. In addition to 101 Whiskies, he is also the author of several whisky-related books and regularly contributes to the whisky industry in a variety of capacities.

As Ian recalls, the original hope for the book was that it would be a popular gift idea for the next Christmas season (maybe two Christmases if he was lucky). That was five editions and twelve Christmases ago. The list has evolved over time with new, worthy entries making the cut alongside staples that have been a part of the list since the very first edition.

The list skews heavily toward whisky made in Scotland but is still diverse enough to include whiskies from a variety of locations. Some of the countries are to be expected (Ireland, US, Japan) while others are more surprising (Israel, Finland). The whiskies on the list are also quite diverse when it comes to both age (up to 25 years old) and style with a surprising number of blended Scotch whiskies featured.

As an enthusiast, I found myself taking another look at expressions—and in some cases, entire brands—that I hadn’t given much consideration to in a long time. This was especially true in the case of blended Scotch whisky brands that have seemingly put some effort into expanding their product lines since they were last on my radar.

Author Ian Buxton

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die is a quick, fun read no matter your level of experience with whisky. You can easily work your way through the list in order or jump around at your leisure and it’s obvious from Ian’s notes that he has tasted enough whisky during his career to recognize when an expression belongs on the list. Many of the new entries in the 5th edition are also relatively new products, demonstrating a need to constantly re-evaluated the list. Who knows what new whiskies will be a part of the sixth edition in a few year but I saw one whisky on the list that has already been discontinued. This book is a fun gift idea as well is a nice table book for your home bar/whisky room and worth checking out.

For the record, I only tried 53 of the 101 whiskies in this list. Looks like I’ve got some work to do!

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Michael Trenteseau January 25, 2023 - 1:14 pm

I was given the 3rd edition of 101 Whiskies several years ago and have had a lot of fun working through the 3rd, 4th, and 5th editions. I’ve enjoyed sampling through them because it gives you a practical knowledge base of whiskies of varying styles, regions, and age statements. If I’m at a bar and I don’t see one of the ones that I haven’t tried, I can usually find something I know I’ll like based on the experience. I bought eight copies of the 5th edition to give out to friends. Definitely encourages interesting conversation!

As much as I love these books and the challenge, there are some red herrings. Two of the whiskies in the 5th edition haven’t been released yet. Another, which carried over from the 4th edition, hasn’t been made for years – I made a journey to a small New England town to find the only shop anywhere in the world that acknowledged having any.

Current count – 97 from the 3rd edition, 94 from the 4th edition, and 70 from the 5th edition. But I haven’t been to the UK since the 5th edition came out, and some of these aren’t available in the US.

Chris Perugini January 25, 2023 - 3:36 pm

Michael, it’s a huge accomplishment to be able to get through so many on the list. Any notable favorites so far? Good luck on your continued quest!

Michael Trenteseau January 26, 2023 - 3:06 pm

Thank you! There have been a lot of good ones – at the higher end, Chivas 25, Balvenie Tun 1509 and Dalmore King Alexander are definitely a real treat. I like the Glenfiddich 15 Solera and the Glendronach Revival, and the Aberlour A’bunadh. Love Glen Scotia 15 and need to try the Victoriana. The one big disappointment was Glenfiddich Winter Storm – one of the most expensive I’ve tried, and the icewine barrel aging is overpowering.

Some of the enjoyment is from seeking them out in bars and then making other discoveries. I had the Ardmore 20 at a bar in London with a big selection of Balvenie, up to the 40 year and they still have Tun 1401. At another London bar I found the Chita and got to try Talisker 43 and Shenk’s. And I’ll never forget talking to the owner of Jack Rose in DC as I added six more to my list (one-ounce pours of course).

Chris Perugini January 27, 2023 - 10:32 am

You’ve named some favorites of mine in this list. And Bill Thomas of Jack Rose is a great guy and can definitely help with harder-to-find items. Good luck on your continued journey!


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