Where does Scotch come from?

Since the name seems to be a dead giveaway, this question shouldn’t be hard to answer. Or so one would think.

You can’t buy happiness. However…

Yet in a survey carried out ahead of World Whisky Day, 10 per cent of Britons couldn’t make the connection between Scotch and Scotland.

Another 10 per cent thought bourbon was Scottish and 22 per cent identified American Rye whisky as Japanese. They must have felt the modifier ‘American’ was there to throw them off the right track deliberately.

Such facts can open various avenues to explore. One could, for example, contemplate a political system in which people who can’t connect Scotch and Scotland are entitled to decide how, and by whom, the country will be governed.

On a different day, I’d probably pursue this line of thought, but today I’d rather celebrate Scotch whisky, that splendid achievement of the human spirit (or spirits, if you’d rather).

Single malt is, as far as I’m concerned, the best after-dinner drink in His creation. It’s also, next to the composer of genius James MacMillan, the greatest contribution Scotland has made to the world – and I hope James won’t take offence at being mentioned in that company.

How a nation with such an execrable taste in food could come up with such a refined beverage is a mystery. Can a man truly appreciate a wee dram with his deep-fried Mars bar or macaroni pie?

For whisky is like wine in that it must be consumed in the right setting, at the right time and with the right accompaniments.

This point is lost on the French. They are the opposite of the Scots in that their taste in food is superb, but their taste in whisky is awful.

They drink neat blended whisky as an aperitif, which is morally wrong. Even blended stuff has a strong taste that cauterises the taste buds, rendering them numb to the fine flavours of food.

That’s criminal, especially considering that the French have a wide array of aperitif wines ideally suited for the purpose, not to mention champagne. If, however, they need a mightier kick-off to their meal, a very dry martini would do the trick.

However, in all my years in France I’ve been unable to convert my friends in that direction, although a few of them have learned to appreciate shots of ice-cold vodka in a different setting.

Speaking of shots, some Scotch whiskies work, provided they aren’t too rich in taste. Speyside malts, such as Glenfiddich, or the blended J&B are perfectly fine when one drinks mainly for effect.

But there Scotch has worthy competitors, such as vodka, grappa or tequila. Where it’s sans pareil is as an after-dinner drink.

It’s ideal as a follow-up to a bottle of decent Burgundy and a prelude to a relaxed drive home, when one can treat with insouciant equanimity such road hazards as deer, boar and les flics.

There a rich, smoky, peaty taste is at a premium. Talisker and Macallan are good, but my favourites, Laphroaig and Lagavulin, come from the Isle of Islay.

To establish my qualifications to judge their merits, I bought my first bottle of Laphroaig for seven dollars in Houston. Now, 45 years later, it’s still my house tipple – there at least is one thing to which I’ve been staunchly faithful.

The French tend to prefer cognac or Armagnac, and some of those are sublime – if you can afford the really good stuff. As a birthday present every year, Penelope used to give me a bottle of Armagnac as old as I am – until I got too old for her purse.

However, sticking to commercial brands, a VSOP cognac or a comparable Armagnac is simply not a patch on a similarly priced Laphroaig or slightly more expensive Lagavulin. Moreover, if you don’t like peaty smoke, you can find among Scotch whiskies an infinitely greater variety of taste than among French or any other brandies.

I don’t wish to make frivolous medical claims – God knows we have enough people making those at present – but single malts contain more antioxidant ellagic acid than red wine does. That means Laphroaig has medicinal properties, which you negligently deny yourself if you don’t have at least a double every evening.

My affection for Laphroaig is shared by the Prince of Wales, a man of taste and discernment, in this area at any rate. Hence it’s the only whisky to carry his Royal Warrant, a worthy accolade for a nectar that five years ago celebrated its centenary.

Anyway, Slange Var!, which is the Scottish for Cheers. I’ve no idea how it’s spelled in Gaelic – but at least I do know Scotch comes from Scotland.

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5 thoughts on “Where does Scotch come from?”

  1. Alcohol in whatever form an excellent way to preserve a perishable product. If drunk in moderation and drunk at a meal.

    Bourbon from the Scots-Irish [Scotch-Irish to some] USA favorite and very well done. I have toured the distilleries in Kentucky and everything done according to the old fashioned method. They deserve a lot of credit.

  2. I have nothing at all to say about deep-fried Mars bars, but I would point out that Macaroni pies have a fine pedigree – they are mentioned with great approbation in The Leopard, for instance.

  3. I knew we had more in common!

    Laphroaig 10 year old (not the 15, 25 or cask rubbish) is my scotch of choice.

    It took me years to find. I always hated whiskey, but always thought that I should give them a go – as, like you say, they are so varied. I always rejected each one I ticked off the list… Until one fateful evening, whilst waiting for a date in a hotel bar, I tried the nectar of the Gods and was instantly hooked!

    I drink mine in a Swedish, birch kuksa (comfortably holds a treble) with a single ice cube.

    Bliss!

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