I suspect that to the purists, English whisky sounds a bit of a historic oxymoron. Yet in the late 19th Century, England boasted four official whisky distilleries and there would have been many more illicit ones in barns and garrets.
Anyone keen to try a dram from all the new distilleries springing up in Scotland would need plenty of stamina, a robust liver and a good chauffeur, as the distilleries are both plentiful and well scattered.
Fans of big-name malts will have noticed a subtle change in their bottles and labels in recent years.
Anyone who has ever visited a distillery will have noticed how its warehouse walls and beams, especially if they are very old, are coated with what looks like soot.
Some 22 years ago I toured Ireland researching its 30-plus lost distilleries for a book. Among them, I recalled two vividly – Tullamore in Co Offaly and nearby Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath – because they were still standing but utterly abandoned and dilapidated. So it was a joy to revisit them recently and see both back in operation.
One of my favourite lost whisky distilleries was actually one in Courier Country, namely Stronachie, situated between Milnathort and Path of Condie in the Ochil Hills.
I have often pondered what mental convolutions a whisky firm’s marketing team goes through when proposing the name for a new whisky. Presumably the name would be in English, as whisky comes from an English-speaking country.
It has always struck me that people in these islands – especially Scots and the Irish – have a strange attitude to drink, epitomised by a onetime friend who once said: “If I can remember the end of a party, it wasn’t a good one.” Of all folk in Western Europe, it seems we (especially when young) too often drink only to get tanked rather than enjoy the great taste and inner relaxation drink can bring.
The German writer and philosopher Goethe once wrote: “Where there is the brightest light, there is also the darkest shadow.”
One thing has often intrigued me. We use four main cereals to make whisky, and other grain-based spirits – namely barley, wheat, maize (corn-on-the-cob) and rye.