Getting off at Saint Cloud

Getting off at Saint Cloud

Michael Jackson, Master of the Quaich, in sheepish mood.
Had I fallen asleep in the passenger seat, or had I really stepped out for the afternoon in a place called Rainbow Village, in Saint Cloud, Minnesota? It sounded like America at its most conservative, but even such prairie parishes accommodate jazz musicians who know Eddie Condon's hangover cure (‘Take the juice of one bottle of whiskey ...’). Dan Preston, a guitarist, had probably drifted from somewhere else. I met him by chance over a drink. He presented me with a bottle of Brakspear's Henley Ale, and said it was to thank me for having introduced him to snowy Dalwhinnie.People who live in cold, northern, climes can have warm appetites. The distinguished Minnesotan Garrison Keillor was recently heard in Britain, on BBC radio, demanding:,"Give me a whisky without an 'e'". His desire for a Scotch thus having been spelled out, he became more specific, "I want one so smoky that it would be illegal in most states of the Union". If someone as down-home as Keillor can make a peaty malt sound like a bedroom practice, Islay could be in for some boom years.Reminds me of a joke someone told me about islanders' sexual preferences. The jest is unsuitable for a family newspaper, or even Whisky and Rock magazines, but the pay-off line is, "Hey, Macleod, get off of my ewe."I was told the full version by a fellow guest at an otherwise very decorous dinner in Blair Castle. Non-British communicants should not be misled into thinking that our Prime Minister has taken to living in a fortress. Blair is a Scottish word meaning a tract of flat land or someone who originates from such a place. Blair Castle, in Perthshire, is the ancestral home of the Duke of Atholl.The American-based whisky writer Stuart MacLean Ramsay (Whisky Magazine’s contributing editor) was proudly taken to a showy restaurant where you choose your lobster from the tank. "That's no big deal," Ramsay told his host. "In Scotland we look out of the window and choose a sheep from the hillside". The sheep at Blair Castle had, thank heavens, been converted into haggis.I was not the speaker at the dinner, which may have been just as well. When I was recently ‘roasted’ (like an English lamb) in Philadelphia, I was told that people never remembered my topic, only my digressions.At Blair Castle, the speaker was former racing driver Jackie Stewart. Having learned of his interest in whisky from Jane Slade's recent interview with him in these pages, I was delighted to hear him in person. Having grown up in Dumbarton, home of Ballantine's, he observed that he was "weaned on the reek of mash". That, perhaps, is the Scottish way of being down-home, but Stewart can also be eloquent, as he was when he progressed from the mash-tun to the bottle, "Single malts have created a wonderful new interest for people who did not know what whisky was all about."I could not have put in better myself, though I have been trying for years. Apparently my efforts have passed muster nonetheless. The dinner was to celebrate the creation of new Keepers and Masters of the Quaich. I was already a Keeper, but am now a Master.Of digression? I had meant to tell you about some friends who loved (in a purely platonic way) sheep. Their interest in sheep led them to fill their house, near Affligem, Belgium, with whisky. A sign outside announced, ‘The Whisky House’. They put on a wonderful tasting recently, and engaged me as the digressor.More later, as we say in the scrivening business.
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