By Ray Pearson
This is the fourth in a series of articles highlighting books about Scotch whisky. We hope you enjoy this new series, please pass along your thoughts in the comment section below.
Robin Laing, a friend, fellow whisky educator, song writer and performer is passionate about single malt whisky and Scotland. Three of his nearly dozen CDs are about whisky, with the most well-known being The Angels’ Share, © 1997, Greentrax Recordings, Scotland. In less than 200 words, Robin sums up the magic, lore, mystery, and nobility of Scotland’s finest product:
Take clear water from the hill and barley from the lowlands.
Take a master craftsman’s skill and something harder to define,
Like secrets in the shape of coppered stills, or the slow, silent, magic work of time.
Bring home sherry casks from Spain, Sanlucar de Barrameda,
And fill them up again, with the spirit of the land.
Then let the wood work to the spirits’ gain, in a process no one fully understands.
Oh, the spirit starts out clear, but see the transformation
After many patient years, when at last the tale unfolds.
For the colours of the seasons will appear, from palest yellow to the deepest gold.
When you hold it in your hand, it’s the pulse of one small nation –
So much more than just a dram. You can see it if you will –
The people and the weather and the land. The past into the present is distilled.
Whisky, you’re the devil in disguise
At least to some that’s the way it seems.
But you’re more like an angel in my eyes.
Catch the heady vapours as they rise
And turn them into peaceful, pleasant dreams.
Robin has also written several books about whisky. The Whisky Muse, © 2002, Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh, is filled with song lyrics, tall tales, little known facts, and humor. The Whisky River – Distilleries of Speyside, © 2007, Luath Press, Ltd, Edinburgh, details over 50 distilleries in the region, with anecdotes, poetry, and respectful salutes to the people at the distilleries making this wonderful water of life:
World of Whisky by Robin Laing
Here’s to the guys who drink the stuff, a little or a lot.
And here’s to the guys who sell it to ‘em, what a difficult job they’ve got.
Here’s to the whisky blenders, may their noses be insured,
But the guys who make it – you can take it –
The keys to heaven are yours.
Whisky for the heart, whisky for the soul.
Whisky stands for friendship, and stories to be told.
And all around the world, whenever whisky’s poured,
The hatred of the past will end at last, and peace will be restored.
The culinary arts are beginning to embrace whisky paired with courses, as well as an ingredient in everything, literally, from soups to nuts. The Whisky Kitchen – 100 Ways with Whisky and Food, by Sheila McConachie and Graham Harvey, ©2008, GW Publishing, Thatcham Berks, UK, is my favorite. Lavishly illustrated with full page color photographs, the book begins with Soups and Starters. Main Courses, Accompaniments & Sauces, Deserts & Sweeties, and Baking are divided into the various regions of Scotland from which the whiskies come. A single page of conversion tables is invaluable in converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, teaspoons to mls, Imperial liquid and dry measures to the US equivalents. Cooking With Scotch Whisky – 100 Luxury Recipes, by Rosalie Gow, ©1990, Gordon Wright Publishing Ltd, Edinburgh, is chocked full of enticing recipes for traditional meals. For me, it’s the inclusion of whisky infused puddings, drinks, “other sweet things”, and my favorite – “cures” that puts this book into my “charming and often-used” category.
Maybe it was being born and raised in Wallasey, ‘cross the Mersey River from Liverpool, that gave artist and author Ralph Steadman his most unique style of art. The British cartoonist and caricaturist uses what has to be the scratchiest and most ink-spurting pen in the art world to make his drawings leap off the page. His Still Life with Bottle, ©1994, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York, messily illustrates the making of whisky, then its “Prewhiskery” history, followed by “Whiskery” (“by coracle from Ireland they came …”). His “The Excise Man” captures that passion and single mindedness of the tax collector that made him so hated by the illicit distillers.