By Ray Pearson | Curator, WhiskeyToursWorldwide
This is the first of a series of articles highlighting books about Scotch whisky. Future articles will spotlight books essential for research, travel, food pairings, history, reviews of specific brands, music, and whisky-related novels. We hope you enjoy this new series and would love to hear your comments.
In the heady and sensuous world of single malt Scotch whiskies, nothing beats the sheer enjoyment of nosing, and tasting them. The whisky’s finish, be it of any length, offers a time for quiet reflection and, hopefully, camaraderie. Enjoying and sharing single malts is a convivial pastime, hopefully pursued in relaxed, comfortable surroundings, with kindred spirits sharing the experience.
Enjoying a favorite single malt while reading about Scotch and Scotland is, to me, an equally fine way to spend an hour or two. The preparation is simple: a favorite chair, a favorite glass, and a favorite CD playing in the background.
A favorite whisky book from my library is a first edition by Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, KCMG*, published in London in 1951. Scotch – The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story bears the bookplate of a Mr. Frank Hardy, who owned it in 1952. It smells like an old book. In this 175 page narrative, Sir Robert sprinkles short verses and humor among the book’s three chapters about The Water of Life, The Whisky Barons, and War, Prohibition and Dollars:
On how to drink Scotch whisky:
“To-day pure malt whisky is rare. To those who can still obtain it, a little water is permissible with the whisky, but preferable after it. Soda water is an abomination and degrades both the spirit and the soul. By and large, the connoisseur still abides by the old Highland saying: ‘There are two things a Highlander likes naked, and one is malt whisky.’”
On the Glenlivet Distillery:
“Glenlivet it has castles three, Drumin, Blairfindy and Deskie, And also one distillery, More famous than the castles three.”
… and about Glenfiddich, founded by the Grant family:
“Lord grant guid luck tae a’ the Grants, Likewise eternal bliss, For they should sit among the sa’nts That make a dram like this.”
The “Big Five” Whisky Barons are profiled in about 45 pages. Family stories about the Dewars the Walkers, the Buchanans, and the Haigs and Mackies chronicle the business of Scotch whisky empire building and the making of great fortunes.
Sir Bruce ends his book on a melancholy, but hopeful note. Having taken us through Prohibition, World War II, and dire shortages of essential goods in Scotland, symbolized by whisky and oatmeal, he sums up the situation in 1951:
“Whisky and oatmeal! … they are the essence of the whole matter, the pattern of the past and the sign-post for the future. For if Scotland is to survive as something more than the northern county of England, she must continue to have a culture and life of her own. In a very real sense, whisky is the life’s blood of the Scot, and I look forward to the day when, among many other things necessary to his survival, he will continue not only to ask for it but to see that he gets it.”
* Knights Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George