From the editors

Drinking whisky: the ultimate winter sport

  • The Winter Olympics are on, which means that it’s time for many of us to suddenly take an interest in people sliding about, mostly at terrifying speed. ‘A novel enough way to commit suicide,’ as Sir Henry Rawlinson once commented.

    There seems more danger involved this year: even the previously balletic ice skating now has a move called the Death Spiral, which strikes me as something dreamt up for the film Blades of Glory rather than being an officially sanctioned move.

    The upshot of this is that I find myself seeking refuge in the calm of the curling rink – less violence, less fear of injury, fewer guns. It’s also a sport of which I have a minor knowledge.

    There was only one curling rink in Glasgow when I was growing up. At school, someone had realised that, if we formed a curling club, we’d be able to miss an afternoon’s lessons due to the length of time it took to get to Crossmyloof.

    We did it. For a while, anyway. And I loved it, finding curling a surprisingly subtle and precise game, tactically complex and far from being housework on ice.

    My memory is hazy, but I can’t remember us ever having regularly competitive matches – either other schools weren’t onto the ruse, or they weren’t capable of such devious thinking. Maybe that’s why the training sessions petered out, and ‘going curling’ became shorthand for popping out to the pub.

    At least we were following an ancient tradition. In the centuries before indoor municipal ice rinks, curling was an outdoor sport, ‘the roaring game’, played on frozen lochs and ponds – and no bonspiel would have been complete without copious amounts of whisky.

    There’s a recently discovered family connection as well. When at my cousin’s a couple of weeks back for the ritual haggis-slaughtering event, the talk turned to our great-grandfather Thomas Moffatt, who was the schoolmaster in the Perthshire village of Forgandenny in the late 19th century.

    Curling in 1886

    Over ice: Curling was once an outdoor sport – and liquid refreshment played a crucial part

    A book on the history of the village has recently been published, and the family have been poring over it to find references to a man by whose life we have always been intrigued. Though he kept diaries all his life, he has remained, somehow, elusive.

    My mother and her cousins always maintained that he was teetotal. I’ve long been unsure about that, given the amount of toddies he seemed to consume on a regular basis when meeting with his cronies in Perth.

    Anyway, the fact that Forgandenny would have been scented by the fumes from Stronachie distillery would surely have turned the most assiduous Rechabite into a lover of Scottish wine.

    The truth was finally revealed in a passage about the Forgandenny Curling Club:

    The evening was memorable for the formation of an old Curling Court, as was the custom after many toasts. Thomas Moffat [sic] became My Lord and Alexander Graham acted as his officer.

    ‘A drinking and fining game followed to raise money and the evening was so fast and furious that it became absolutely necessary to appoint an assistant officer in the person of Brother William Gourlay. The welcoming nature of the curling club members achieved some notoriety…’

    Though this may have shocked our parents, my cousins and I revelled in the notion that our ancestor was head of such a notoriously raucous association.

    Maybe there’s something in the genes. Another round of Talisker (no Stronachie was available) was poured to toast the old man, just as it would have been on the ice in those far-off days.

    It’s another example of how whisky enters every crevice of life and binds people together. Winter sports are associated with booze. Maybe not at the elite level – being half-cut on the half-pipe might not be ideal – but on a strictly amateur level there’s as much excitement about the après-ski as there is about the activity itself, and surely the best thing after a long day in cold temperatures is a dram.

    The joy with the Winter Olympics is that you don’t need to get yourself cold to begin with. Just pull on a woolly hat and have a dram while watching the highlights.

Scroll To Top