Thursday, 27 January 2011

On Being a Whisky-Drinker

My last birthday was a Big One and so I did rather well for gifts, not least in that I was presented with several very fine bottles of malt whisky over which I crowed for days to anyone who’d listen. In fact more than one friend was moved to remark that he ‘hadn’t known I was such a whisky drinker...’ Well, a bloody good thing too, pal, for if it were more widely known that I favour the amber then I daresay I’d receive a lot more of it on gift-giving occasions (since apparently I’m reckoned to be ‘a bit hard to buy for...’) And if there were racks upon racks of first-rate whisky just lying round my house all the time...? Aw boy, I’d be in trouble then.
Let me say quickly that out of all the malts I choose the Glenlivet, which is certainly not a connoisseur’s pick but one that you could put your house on. I won’t try to describe its complexity on the tongue and in the throat, sadly I’m not that accomplished a writer. I’ll just say that I began drinking it (as I began doing many things) on account of something I read by Norman Mailer – in this case, the early pages of Harlot’s Ghost where retired CIA man Harry Hubbard receives a nocturnal visit from his old spook associate Reed Rosen, offers him a dram and, while pouring, is annoyed to hear Rosen ‘go on about its merits.’ The main point is that Hubbard pours it neat – and ‘screw him if after all that praise he secretly wanted ice...’
The finest, most discerning piece of writing I know about whisky and its ways is Don Paterson’s poem 'A Private Bottling' from the 1997 collection God’s Gift to Women. If you don’t have it, do yourself a favour. The following stave offers only the barest flavour of a poem that concludes magificently with a glass raised in toast 'not to love, or life, or real feeling,/but to their sentimental residue;/to your sweet memory, but not to you...' But just as a passing evocation of the taste of the ambers - it's unimprovable.
O whiskies of Long Island and Provence!
This little number catches at the throat
but is all sweetness in the finish: my tongue trips
first through burning brake-fluid, then nicotine,
pastis, Diorissimo and wet grass;
another is silk sleeves and lip-service
with a kick like a smacked puss in a train-station;
another, the light charge and the trace of zinc
tap-water picks up at the moon’s eclipse.
You will know the time I mean by this...

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