Glenturret distillery, home to The Famous Grouse, has released a core range of single malt whiskies.
Up stupidly early one Saturday morning, I did something most uncharacteristic and flicked through the TV channels. There it was, the familiar black-and-white montage of Hebridean life, that well-known voiceover:
‘North-west of Scotland, on the broad expanse of the Atlantic, lie the lovely islands of the Outer Hebrides, small scattered patches of sand and rock rising out of the ocean…The inhabitants scrape a frugal living from the sea, and the sand and the low-lying hills of coarse grass and peat bog.
A happy people, with few and simple pleasures [who] have all that they need. But, in 1943, disaster overwhelmed this little island. Not famine nor pestilence, nor Hitler’s bombs, or the hordes of an invading army.
But something far, far, worse. There is no whisky!… From that day every man went into mourning.’
Whisky Galore is a fantastic film which, like the best of the Ealing comedies (and indeed all the work of Alexander Mackendrick) I could watch on a continuous loop. It was one of my dad’s favourites as well. The opening scene when, after the whisky had run out, the old man simply, silently went to bed and died had him in tears of laughter every time he saw it.
The dram of everyman: a scene from Whisky Galore!
It was that and that line ‘every man’ which resonated with me. My father was a whisky drinker. Not a heavy whisky drinker, but that is what he had every night when he got home off the bus.
My uncle in Glasgow was a whisky drinker too – he had to be as he worked for Black & White. That ensured a decent supply in our house. My uncles in Perth were whisky drinkers as well, but they drank Famous Grouse. My uncle in the Army drank whisky as well.
When they all got together, the glasses would be filled, the music would be played, there would be singing, laughing, war stories and we as kids would watch it all, trying to discern who was speaking through the fug of cigarette smoke.
It would be the same in pubs. Not just the smoke, but also the men, at the bar, the ‘hauf and a hauf’, the bottles of lemonade on the bar top, the water jugs or spigots. Drinking whisky was to be a member of a club. One which I would, in time, be allowed into. To be admitted was to be given a tacit nod that you had come of age.
It was a male-only club as well. My Army auntie had whisky and soda, but that was considered a little ‘fast’ by the other women in the family. There again, she was from Aberdeen.
Mourning would indeed have happened had that whisky supply been turned off. That is what they drank. There was no thought of alternatives, no discussion of cocktails, no wine, just the occasional beer – cracked with a tin opener. Whisky was it. For every man.
There was also a difference between having a dram and being bought one. You sipped whisky purloined in some way as a teenager, but only when someone purchased one for you could you be called a whisky drinker, or indeed a man.
For me, that first time was after my dad had died. I was still below legal drinking age but, hell, this was Glasgow. My Black & White uncle bought me a dram in a bar next to Queen Street Station. He didn’t ask me if I wanted one, there was just this silent slide of a small glass towards me, this tacit invitation to join. I accepted it, of course, not knowing where this first proper dram would eventually lead.
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