Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
The other evening, having spent much of the afternoon doing little, I took myself to my local gastropub and found myself in the enjoyable company of a couple of other like-minded gents. Having covered and dismissed, in short shrift, women, weather, and Brexit in that order, we moved on to a more serious topic, that of Scottish whisky and its very beginnings.
To assist us in our deliberations, we tested a couple of new names from the landlord’s ever-increasing collection of single malt whiskies, or rather they did. I chose one of the few blended Scotch on display
Frankly, there was little to deliberate, as it seemed we were in agreement that the genesis of Scottish whisky began with the Phoenicians and it was these early Semitic traders and the first distillers of alcohol, who had passed their knowledge on to the Irish in the late 12th century. The Scots, being in close contact with their fellow Celts carried on the process at the same time.
We know that in the Middle Ages, most Scots farmers must have distilled enough for the family and their workers but it was not until the seventeenth century it came on to the market, where it was generally known as pot-still whisky; its flavour varying from place to place.
As there were no grapes in Ireland or Scotland it was necessary to make the mash out of oats, with barley becoming the preferred ingredient. They called the result usque beatha, which, like aqua vitae and eau de vie translate as water of life. Eventually, we English who could not get our tongues around the Celtic language but took a liking to this Scottish nectar and named it whisky.
However, it was not until the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign that our taste for Scotch began. At that time in Scotland, there were more than one hundred small distilleries but only five produced for export to English consumption and these adjusted their distillation and sold it as gin. As the distilleries began to improve the quality and to experiment, one astute manufacturer blended together the grain and the malt and it was this blended spin-off which appealed more to the English taste.
In the late seventies of the nineteenth century, the larger distilling firms began to emerge and many were to become household names. By the eighties, it was becoming fashionable and the London club members began calling for a whisky and soda instead hock and soda which had been popular for so long.
The majority of present-day drinkers, including my companions at the bar, have turned to the 100% malt whiskies, whereas I, being a dinosaur in my tastes differ, in preferring a full and dark, well-aged blended Scotch. As the evening wore on, I attempted to convince my two younger companions on the majesty, for example, of a blended, Crabbie 12 year old but they preferred to defer to the trend which is – the clearer a whisky, the better. “Absolute balderdash,” said I, taking my leave.
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