|This is he, playing the fule.|
|This is the amazing performing drinks cabinet.|
Nunc est bibendum: Whisky
“The Chinese invented whisky” – Mr. Stephen Fry, QI, BBC Television
Now I have a few things in common with the esteemed Mr. Fry: a broken nose, education at an esteemed East Anglian institution*, a tailor (Messrs. Stanley Ley on Fleet Street) and a distinct air of self-satisfaction, but he’s a braver man than I. If in doubt of his valour go up to a Scot and tell them their esteemed national tipple is an oriental development and expect to be engaged in fierce debate (whilst getting sliced up like a goodun’ , obviously). Whilst Johnny Scotsman may be an excitable lot they certainly do have much to be proud of in the beverage they named “usquebaugh” or the “water of life”. Sadly, however, like the poor maligned martini in the first of this occasional series of rambling collection of drunken puns and misquotes, whisky is a drink many of us don’t understand or enjoy but with perseverance, a number of hangovers, and careful selection everyone can be as incoherent as a Scot on hogmanay and enjoying one of the finest spirits known to man.
Many people are put off the whisky by childish excess and the resulting suffering. Certainly one of your correspondent’s earliest experiences involved sitting in a kitchen with a giant 'scandinorjen' chap called Ilka the Finn who proceeded to pull out a huge bottle of “Claymore” brand Happy Shopper whisky. “Every time I drink this I lose all my memory”.
“But, dear boy”, I attempted to wheedle, “there’s not enough for both of us in that bottle”.
He laughed in a Norse manner and produced another equally huge bottle saying “Yes, this is yours”. That, dear reader, was my last clear memory for 36 hours and sometimes I receive flashbacks to the dreadful, dreadful hangover. On the upside I did learn a spot of Finnish (“Vitut! Saada moottorisaha!”**) but it has never come in that useful (translation below).
The whisky available in most bars or supermarkets comes from four main countries of supply and broadly portrays the national characteristic:
Scotland: Strong, difficult to understand at first, ultimately worthwile getting to know
Ireland: Sweet, easy to get on with, incautious consumption may lead to fighing/song/both
American: Brash, loud, considers it can’t gain anything from the other countries
Japanese: Bizzare and utterly, utterly incomprehensible
Scottish whisky is generally considered to be the best and will almost certainly cost the most. Most booze bores out there will tell you that only single malt is worth drinking but of course they are, as always wrong. If a producer is going to go to the time and effort of mixing together various different sources of distilled malted barley (the differenct between a single malt and a blended whisky) they are probably doing it for a good reason. The cheap and nasty blends, such as those favoured by Ilka the Norse god of rolling around in the gutter, will take the enamel off your teeth but this is also true of any cheap spirit. The key point is how old it is: as a general rule an 18 year old blend will taste better than an unaged single malt. The aging process is where the witchcraft happens and as a rule of thumb the years spent sitting in the bourbon, sherry, rum or brandy barrels (or sometimes all of them at various times) gives extra smoothness and lovely other tastes such as sweetness and smoke.
Scottish whisky can be a little hard for the newbie to stomach and Denis Leary, the American comedian, does a marvellous impression of the new whisky drinkers face as part of his act, it basically looks like a snapping turtle attempting to pass a kidney stone, but a drop of water or soda will smooth out the edges and even bring out other more subtle tastes.
** “Fuck It! Get the chainsaw”