I am a whisky nerd, I happily admit that. That statement actually has two significant elements. First, and foremost in this context, is the ‘whisky’. I love whisky, all aspects of it. The drams themselves, the distilleries, the people, the histories, the experiences, the passion, the knowledge, the fun, the attention to detail, the reverence, the tall tales, the mystery, the dynamic, the range and the magic. Second is the ‘nerd’, a term defined as “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a non-social hobby or pursuit”. Over the past few years, the term has been redefined, from being a derogatory stereotype to now being more a term of pride and identity. I prefer this latter definition, although I must admit to a certain level of obsession when it comes to whisky.

So, why am I bothering you with this? Well, my obsession has found something new (still whisky related) to hunger for. I have become aware of a most beautiful whisky book – The Art in Whisky. This is such a stunning looking book that I knew immediately that I had to speak to the man behind this piece of art, professional photographer Jon Purcell.

The Art in Whisky - The Copper Edition
The Art in Whisky – The Copper Edition (Photo: Jon Purcell)

First off, I asked Jon to tell me a bit about himself, his interest in whisky and how the whole idea for the book came about.

Jon reveals that he has always enjoyed the odd whisky since he discovered it back when he was a student at university and has always lent towards peatier expressions. He is a professional advertising photographer, doing work commissioned directly by advertising agencies. He works for varied clients such as motor manufacturers, airlines, international hotels and banks.

“Like all good ideas… well, maybe not all, the concept was born over a couple of drinks.

My very good friend Jimmy and I were rounding off an enjoyable evening with a few drams. Jimmy is something of an authority and has an extensive whisky collection which he has curated for both pleasure and, because he’s a city type and can’t help himself, investment.

He was taking me on a journey through his cabinet and introducing me to some gems I was unaware of. This pulled the conversation around to whisky books, and the observation that there were many excellent well-written and researched reference sources, but on the whole, they were rather dry, text-based and in my opinion, not particularly well illustrated.

After a few more drams, one I remember being a particularly amazing Lagavulin 21, we thought maybe it would be worth having a go at filling that particular void ourselves by publishing a whisky book based around photography.

A couple of months of research later, and the germ of an idea was looking like it could be a reality.”

The Art in Whisky - The pagodas of Bowmore
The pagodas of Bowmore Distillery (Photo: Jon Purcell)

Then the actual work started. I assume working on this book was somewhat different from your regular work?

“The book is my first project where I have effectively been the client myself. It’s been very liberating. One of the luxuries was having more time, to play with. Not having to work to a specific deadline allowed me to be able to go back to using my wooden 4×5 field camera when possible, and shoot on film.

This slower more considered approach lent itself very well to the subject matter because after all making great whisky is all about taking time.”

The Art in Whisky - The Sligachan Bridge on the Isle of Skye
The Sligachan Bridge on the Isle of Skye (Photo: Jon Purcell)

When I ask Jon how he ended up selecting the locations, and thus the pictures, for the book he told me about the editing process. The main challenge was to decide what to include and what to leave out. Much like a movie, the first cut was way too long. He tells me the “distilling” of the material down to its present form was an exacting and grueling task.

“My aim from the outset, was to illustrate the story of whisky from its beginnings to the present day.

My travels took me all over Ireland, Scotland and out to Asia, the idea was to give the viewer a backstage pass into the whisky world. The other thing that was important to me was to remain editorially neutral, all of the material included is there because I feel it tells the story in the most visually pleasing way.”

The Art in Whisky - The Black Edition
The Art in Whisky – The Black Edition (Photo: Jon Purcell)

At this point, I believe I should provide some facts on this book. It comes in two editions, the Copper Edition and the Black Edition:

  • Foreword written by Richard “the nose” Paterson
  • 256 pages of high-quality velum paper
  • 350+ beautiful images
  • Handbound in black calfskin leather (and burnished copper for the Copper Edition)
  • Layflat binding for seamless images
  • Presented in a hand-crafted, calfskin leather clamshell box with suede interior.
The Art in Whisky - the stills at Caol Ila
The stills at Caol Ila Distillery on Islay (Photo: Jon Purcell)

I had never heard of “layflat binding” before, so asked Jon to provide some details.

“Having spent so much time and effort in acquiring the assets, shooting and writing the content I felt that we should present the material in as innovative way as possible. I was aware that book production is going through something of a renaissance at the moment, one new technique that particularly intrigued me was layflat binding. As a photographer, the thought of not losing a considerable section of my image in the gutter of a double page spread was an exciting proposition. I found a British company that I felt happy with, and after a considerable amount of development and refinement, we both felt confident that we would be able to offer a truly cinematic experience on paper.”

The Art in Whisky - Lagavulin Distillery
A beautiful view of Lagavulin Distillery (Photo: Jon Purcell)

With such an extraordinary book, I am sure you have thoughts on who your readers might be, the people that will buy this beautiful object?

“I knew that my potential readers would be whisky aficionados and connoisseurs, but throughout the process, I was keen not to alienate anyone. I wanted the book to be engaging on all levels.

Collecting rare expressions and editions of whisky drives a lot of my targeted clientele. A limited edition release for the book suited the artisanal hand-made nature its manufacture and reflects that of fine whisky making.

The Copper Edition limited to 250 and the Black Edition to 1000, meant we could offer a unique product at two distinct price points.”

The Copper Edition runs at GBP 1250, and the Black Edition at GBP 450.

The Art in Whisky - Kilbeggan Distillery
Casks and chimney at Kilbeggan Distillery, Ireland (Photo: Jon Purcell)

These stunning, one of a kind tomes are fast becoming collector’s items, Jon tells me he has a world map on his office wall where he records each copy’s destination. With pins stuck in places as far afield as Tasmania in Australia and Shanghai in China, these are exciting times.

So, Jon, what’s next?

“What was initially an idea for one book, has grown into a suite of four. I had originally planned on including Bourbon in this first book, but the two spirits are so diverse, and their story’s so fascinating, I wouldn’t have been able to do them both justice.

So Bourbon became a separate title, and with that decision made, tapping into the current zeitgeist, it made sense to look at Rum and Tequila as well.”

The Art in Whisky - the stillman at Chichibu
The stillman checking the new make at Chichibu Distillery, Japan (Photo: Jon Purcell)

You can see more details on the books, and order your own copy over at  www.spioradpublishing.com. Incidentally, Spiorad (pronounced spi-radj), is an Irish/Scottish Gaelic word meaning “spirit”.

– Thomas

PS! Remember to click on the images for higher resolution. It is well worth it in this case!

PPS! It is my birthday today.. Hint, hint.. Wink, wink..



  1. I just placed an order – gotta have this! It´s not cheap but then again, The Scotch Whisky Industry Review that I have been buying every year for the past 14 years is even more expensive and it doesn´t have any images!😉

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