A cure for hiccups

A cure for hiccups

Robin Laing takes a gentle stroll with his friend through Speyside

Travel | 25 Nov 2004 | Issue 44 | By Robin Laing

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Donald’s career path has taken him to the South East of England, close to the engine room of political power. This path has distanced him, in my opinion, from those magical places in Scotland where earth seems to interface with heaven. He’s my friend so I see it is my duty to bring him back whenever possible, so we’ve had days mountain climbing in Glencoe and short breaks in Islay. Donald has become a single malt whisky enthusiast and I take some credit for this. He doesn’t know it but I’ve enrolled him on my life appreciation course and it’s all part of the programme.I did notice though that he was favouring Islay malts. He would go for one or two other Island or Highland malts now and then, but never any Speysides.When questioned about this he said that Speyside whiskies always gave him the hiccups. I told him I’d never heard anything so ridiculous in my life, whisky is the cure of ailments not the cause, but he stuck to his guns. Here was a personal challenge; how to help Donald get over this obviously neurotic delusion – by subterfuge? By behavioural psychology? By bullying and torture?In the end I decided on the subtle approach; take him to the heart of Speyside, not to visit any distilleries, but just to let the atmosphere do its work.So I booked us into the Craigellachie Hotel. Craigellachie is the spiritual heart of Speyside, almost equidistant from Aberlour, Dufftown and Rothes. A dozen or more distilleries are within walking distance and evocative place names leap off every road sign.The hotel welcomes its guests with a dram in a quaich – in this case a Compass Box blend. Donald was impressed. Then before he was even unpacked we had the walking boots on and were strolling along the Spey to Aberlour.I made a halt on the way for a surprise refreshment from my rucksack – a wee Macallan looking across the river to Easter Elchies House as the mighty Spey cantered by. I didn’t notice any hiccups.The Mash Tun in Aberlour is a great wee pub where you can always find a range of good beers. I knew that would get Donald in the mood. He was particularly taken with the Nessie Monster Mash.I caught him eyeing up all the Islays on the gantry but Neil MacDonell, the publican, and I started work on him with talk of how a real man can appreciate blondes, brunettes and redheads and not always have to go for just one type.The logic of this began to filter through into his choice of drams I was pleased to see (and no hiccups) until at one point, on some wave of personal nostalgia, he ordered a vodka. Neil and I had to point out that, in terms of the women and whisky metaphor, he had just arranged a blind date with a scabby goat.Browbeaten and sheepish he returned to the fold and by way of an apology ordered some of the local magic, Aberlour A’Bunadh. I was delighted to see his glottis working as normal.Craigellachie, believe it or not, is also a great place for a pub-crawl. There might be only three bars but the spectrum of drinking experiences is as wide as the horizon (indeed horizontal might be quite an appropriate word).There’s the Fiddichside Inn, a traditional front parlour but and ben kind of pub, very rare these days. Then there’s the Highlander, friendly in a more boisterous way.Donald ordered a Laphroaig with a gleam in his eye, only to be chastised by the barmaid, “och we don’t drink that stuff here – it’s only for cleaning the toilets”.She was pulling his leg, of course, but it did no harm to have his belief in the superiority of Islay malts brutally challenged by an attractive young lady. He swallowed hard, but no hiccups.Finally the Quaich Bar in the Craigellachie Hotel has 500 single malts, an Alladin’s Cave of treasures and temptations. We had a splatter of Speysides there and his Adams apple didn’t once lose its natural rhythm.The feel of the place, the landscape, the place names and conversations with local people were all having an effect and Donald began to show some real interest in the local whiskies.We walked to the Cooperage and did the Dufftown spur of the Speyside Way. We visited the Whisky Shop there and he purchased two bottles of Compass Box whisky. At least he chose the Eluthera which has some Speyside in it. The hoops were loosening on the barrel staves of
his resistance.The following day we had a programme of activities with Innes Macpherson at House of Mulben – tearing about on quad bikes, clay pigeon shooting and fly-fishing followed by one or two (Speyside) drams. No hiccups.In the afternoon we were royally entertained in the Duncan Taylor whisky shop in Huntly and sampled some of the Peerless range of old, special whiskies, including a spate of Speysides. His diaphragm did not spasm once. Indeed he left the shop proudly clutching two bottles, Longmorn and Caperdonich.I triumphantly congratulated Donald on having overcome his hiccup problem, but with the lawyer’s irritating insistence on pedantic detail he said “well, certainly it seems that Speyside whiskies don’t give me hiccups in Speyside but who knows what might happen when I get back home? After all, it might have just been the leg pulling, arm twisting, browbeating and ear bending that did the trick.”
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