Desperately seeking Scotland

Desperately seeking Scotland

Wherever I go, I am reminded of the islands and the glens…but they exist only in my\rmind, confesses Michael Jackson
Alaska appears to be attached to the wrong country, even in normal circumstances. The last time I was there, it contrived to have slipped even further out of register. It seemed to have turned into Scotland, albeit 20 times as big and with a tenth of the population. I was there for a beer festival, and was taking the opportunity to visit the nine or 10 breweries in and around the biggest city, Anchorage.The Cusack’s Oatmeal Stout was silky and nutty; the Braveheart Scottish Ale chocolatey and malty; the Burning Bog Scotch Ale smoky and treacly…and I was still only three breweries down the pike.In this blend of cosmopolitan and Caledonian, you can forget how misty people’s images are of Scotland.“Where are you from?” I was asked.“Yorkshire,” I volunteered.“Is that considered Scotland?” someone asked.“Considered?!” I hacked back a chuckle. There was, I explained, no question of being “considered” Scotland. A town or county was in one nation or the other.I would never mock an American for failing to be streetwise about Europe. Americans have plenty of geography on their own plates. They can be forgiven for being vague about the relationship of the three nations on our island.You know the sort of thing; “Jack Daniels and Jim Beam are, of course, our American Scotches, but they are not as good as the ones you make in England.”Plenty of English people are equally vague. What is their excuse? To some Londoners, the capital’s suburbs are the end of civilisation, beyond which lies “The North”, an amorphous territory that includes Scotland.Having been born and raised in the North of England, I never had any reason to believe that I was in Scotland. Quite obviously, I was not. Scotland was further north.In Scotland, the men wore skirts and threw tree trunks (these two traits were illustrated on the packet from which my mother made our breakfast porridge).The man on the porridge packet looked marginally more animated than the Scots musicians who suddenly appeared on television at Hogmanay: “Singing biscuit tins,” as Billy Connolly memorably dubbed them.He might equally have called them singing whisky bottles. The “Singing biscuit tins” have vanished from television, while the labelling, packaging and advertising of whisky has improved beyond recognition.As I came to know and love Scotch whisky, it never occurred to me that a product described as such might be made anywhere else.When I began to write about it, I had many a meeting with dark-suited men . Their job was to put journalists and authors on the right track.“It must be made in Scotland,” they would tell me.Given the world’s vagueness as to the status and location of Scotland, how significant is it that a product is made there? I realise that this is a sensitive nerve.Yorkshiremen are sometimes accorded a grudging respect by Scots. My admiration for the achievements of Scotland is wholly ungrudging.Neither a Scot nor a McWannabee, I nonetheless feel a surge of emotion when, in Toronto or Tokyo, I return to my hotel and raise a nightcap. If it tends to be an Islay malt, that is because the islanders best present the tastes of Scotland. Or perhaps they don’t.I am told that the water source doesn’t matter, nor the type of barley, and especially the place of maturation. To hold these views demonstrates the boldness of an heretic. It shows machismo.Clearly, all those salty, seaweed, tar-like flavours in the best of island malts appear by coincidence.Anyone who believes that might be described by a word common to the English spoken in Yorkshire, and in Scots. The epithet has all the dismissive simplicity of its short vowel. The word is “daft”.
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