Scotch whisky, like French wine and Harry Potter, is subject to arcane speculation, its reputation guarded by zealous acolytes, while many people simply don’t get what the fuss is about.
I went to the launch of the ‘whisky snug’ at the Hotel du Vin in Brighton last Friday, organised by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, to learn a little more about the subject. The SMWS, based in Leith, Edinburgh, has teamed up with The Hotel du Vin/Malmaison Group to offer special packages to members in Sussex, including regular events, special dram prices and good deals on the swish ‘Society Suite’ at the hotel. The noise on the night was all about single cask whiskies, independently bottled by the society, who use a numbering to identify each bottle. This gives no indication of quality; each bottle will taste completely different as each cask lends its own features to the spirit. With an alcohol content of 50 per cent, these products demand caution.
John McShane, the society’s ambassador, quoted David Daiches, the Scottish literary historian, critic and writer: “The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence: it is a toast to civilization, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed.”
He also quoted WC Fields: “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”
And here is the great man (that’s Fields), demonstrating his capacity for strong liquor.