Wednesday, 26 November 2008


So, Scotland's favourite whisky. I have a bottle, a present from Aunt Lily. Normally, I avoid blends, but tonight, having partaken of some Railroad Red South African plonk, six quid from the Ollaberry Shop (not bad, actually...imagine the smell of Glasgow's underground system laced with Ribena) I felt the need to...progress. And so here we are.

And immediately I'm back at my first journalistic job, in 1978, working for Project Scotland, a construction industry weekly. Fitzroy Place, Glasgow, just along Sauchiehall Street from what is now Mother India. Harry. Harry was office manager, running, on behalf of Irish firm Morton Publications (no relation), not just Project Scotland but Offshore Oil Weekly. I ended up working for both.

Anyway, Harry had this theory. Famous Grouse (his favourite whisky, always available in the bottom drawer of his desk) was the most popular whisky in Scotland because of its name. 'Grrrrouse', he would say. 'People like saying it. GrRRRouse.'

The roughness of that glottal 'rrrrr' is in the whisky, actually, with the presence of Islay malts. Not so you'd notice by sniffing. What you always smell with whisky, first off, is the warehouse. The oak. The ash and the evaporation. But dig deep, swill it around your labial fricatives, and there they are, those peaty spirits. But not overhwhelmingly so. It's full of cheap grain spirit, like all blends. But it's carefully and well made, so it doesn't rip your consonants and vowels to pieces. Not at first.

This is basic whisky. Relatively smooth, but essentially thin with the rattling burr of Islay some way distant. But it's palatable, and good with a pint (or half) of heavy. I'm talking about the everyday Grrrouse, by the way, not the Swedish-market Black Grouse or the other poshed-up variants. Fakery, though I'm keen to try the Black stuff, all peated up. Why not?

But if we're talking basic blends - and you can get a lot cheaper - there are better, maltier, more complex drams: Black Bottle and Baillie Nicol Jarvie spring to mind.

But hey, it's no' bad. Cheers, Harry!

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