This Guy Is the UK’s Original Whiskey Writer

mister whisky lead

UK drinks magazine Hot Rum Cow pays homage to Alfred Bernard, the eccentric chronologer of UK distilleries and author of The Whiskey Distilleries of the United Kingdom, a meticulous (some might say tedious) account of 161 distilleries, their dimensions and their methods (if not much in the way of tasting notes).

In 1885, Bernard was tasked by Harper’s Weekly Gazette “to visit every far-flung distillery in Britain and report back to civilisation” as Britain was in dire need of an education regarding the whiskey spirit. The Great French Wine Blight had deprived many a den and parlor of brandy; in desperation, middle-class Victorians turned to their locality for a substitute, perhaps astonished to find such a volume of whiskey and scotch. Harper’s published his work as serials which were later compiled in a comprehensive volume.

The book is written in flights of romantic contemplation of the English countryside (en route to the distilleries), before abruptly transitioning into blueprints of the distilleries’ construction, size, berth and so on. Richard Joynson, who has written introductions for the last two printings of The Whiskey Distilleries of the United Kingdom, provides insight: It’s an unabashedly Victorian tome—subdued in narrative and technical in direction. But Joysnson asserts that the details provided by Bernard could recreate each distillery effectively: “I sat down with a computer-aided design program and drew the distillery from Bernard’s descriptions which, together with the illustrations of Glendarroch from the book, I sent off to an artist. The artist came up with what turned out to be a bloody accurate representation of the distillery, compared with original photos I found of the site.”

Hot Rum Cow sketches an entertaining portrait coupled with Joynson’s delightful observations of the man who he calls, “a maverick… a bon viveur… a man with a mission and a tape measure…” [Hot Rum Cow] [Image: Flickr/HoppingConductor]