At heaven's gate

At heaven's gate

Michael Jackson on the importance of standing your round
Afirst impression, or a sole encounter, can linger indelibly. The only time I met Ted Heath (the recently departed former British prime minister) was at a conference on marketing. There was an informal gathering of speakers and press. Heath's handlers had managed to procure him some whisky, but there was none for the press.I don't suppose it was his fault, but having a drink in front of thirsty journalists was like eating a freshly-killed lamb in front of a pack of salivating wolves. For a career politician, it is not smart to annoy the press. I would have thought that was pretty basic.There was a little forced banter, but the awkwardness of the moment is my dominant memory of a leader now being credited with great statesmanship. That Mr Heath had to pull the old trick of dying in order to be appreciated simply goes to show the importance of being generous with one's whisky.It is easier to demonstrate such generosity if you know your next dram may be in the saloon bar at heaven's gate.A friend of mine, who worked in the drinks industry in Portland, Oregon, was always generous with his whisky, but especially after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He was an American of Irish origin, and decided to have a living wake, two or three weeks before his death was scheduled. He didn't want to miss the party, even though he wasn't feeling very well.At the wake, everyone told him how much his wisdom, imagination, creativity and energy had contributed to the greater good of humankind. The more they drank, the more extravagant their eulogies.He didn't have to wait until he was dead. He was glad he had arranged things this way, because he wasn't sure where he was going afterwards. Nor, having received such glowing reviews on his departure, did he know what to expect on his arrival.Do heaven and hell have their own newspapers? The Heaven Herald and The Hellman, perhaps? What my friend seriously doubted was the likelihood of being able to receive his usual newspaper, The Oregonian, in a polythene bag on the outer doorknob of his bedroom.That may well depend upon the class of accommodation. I imagine a very good suite was booked for the American writer George Plimpton, who died a couple of years ago. One or two of his obituarists mentioned that his normal catering arrangements for a party involved two or three bottles of wine and a couple of dozen bottles of Scotch whisky. I like the sense of proportion. Definitely generous with his whisky.At which destination on The Other Side did Plimpton settle, I wonder? I am sure he tried them all. That would be in his nature as a participatory journalist. Not only was he one of the founders of the Paris Review, which published Henry Miller, he also boxed several rounds with Archie Moore and Muhammad Ali (not simultaneously) in the course of researching sports articles.This was a more direct technique than that of his contemporary A. J. Liebling, one of the greatest writers on boxing, who also wrote with great relish on food, among several other topics Abbot Joseph Liebling was once hit on the jaw by a man who had been the recipient of a similar gesture from Joe Louis. In a parallel knock-on effect, I once ate a dozen oysters with a man who had consumed a like number of the bivalves with Joe Liebling.Did we wash them down with Champagne or Chablis? We did not. The gamey, seaweedy, creatures met their demise drunk on Laphroaig.A surrealistic vision, perhaps, that might have been animated by Terry Gilliam. His work for Monty Python had a touch of Hieronymous Bosch, a hint of the living death that is the hangover.He was quoted in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine the other day as saying: "I discovered Laphroaig whisky at a little party. It fired me up. It gave me the illusion that I had some talent."As an admirer of Gilliam's graphics, I am glad that the little party was apparently very generous with the Islay malt.
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