Mordecai's Macallan

Mordecai's Macallan

Which whisky wins the bookish prize? Self's Laphroaig, Black's Glenfiddich 18 ...or Michael Jackson's Bellow Bourbon?
Michael Jackson

16 October 1999

Publication: Issue 6

What do you like to read with your bedtime whisk(e)y? Or do you choose the whisky to suit the author? It has been a while since I had a Bellow’s Bourbon with its namesake Saul. On the other hand, Philip Roth and a risqué whiskey is always a pleasure. A shot of wry, so to speak, with Mordecai Richler? His writing was described as ‘gorgeously funny’ by the bibulous Anthony Burgess, who dubbed mine ‘poetry.’As I namedrop my literary tastes, I wonder about the writers and their favourite whiskies. Richler is from Montreal, and I always imagined him settling down with Sam Bronfman’s creation Crown Royal. Or perhaps the writer of St Urbain’s Horsemen would like a Kilbeggan, named after a nag? Apparently not.While looking for something completely different, I chanced upon a newspaper clipping of an interview with Richler. It had appeared in 1994, when he was publicising his novel Solomon Gursky Was Here. The interview was in the format of a questionnaire. You know the sort of thing: silly questions posed in the hope of epigrammatic answers. Why, I wondered, had I filed it five years ago?Perhaps it was the interviewer’s question: what do you consider the most overrated virtue? “Abstemiousness”, Richler had responded. No, it was: What is your favourite smell? (I told you the questions were silly). Once again, though, Richler had a good answer: “Macallan’s single malt.” He did not say at what age. Having recently nosed, and tasted 40-odd Macallans for my own latest book, I wonder what he liked best: the maltiness itself, with those buttery aromas; the typical estery flowering currant and apple; the nutty sherry; or that polished leather and oak armchair-at-bedtime mood?Talking of bedtime, did you ever see the lovemaking scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in the movie Don’t Look Now? If you saw the film, you will not have forgotten those moments of persuasive passion. Soon afterwards, I was mistaken for Donald Sutherland by an Air Canada stewardess. Flattered beyond belief, I nonetheless wondered how someone so short-sighted could be entrusted with such important responsibilities (serving me the correct whisky, and preventing it from being unduly watered if the plane crashed into the drink, so to speak). I have always cherished the fantasy that Julie Christie is short-sighted, too, and that one day I will encounter her.Back to that unforgettable bout of nude wrestling. Shouldn’t they have called the movie Look Now? The bareness of the principals may, though, have distracted you from the bottle of Macallan on the bedside table. It was placed there, in an Hitchcockian gesture, by screenwriter Allan Scott, who at the time led a double life as Allan Schiach, who was chairman of Macallan until a few years ago. Schiach was born into the Macallan whisky family, but started writing as a student at McGill University, in Canada. Did he infuse Richler with an enthusiasm for Macallan? Perhaps. No such excuse for the British novelist Kingsley Amis, who favoured the 10 Year Old. I feel my own age when I have to explain to younger readers that Kingsley was the father of Martin Amis, today more widely known. Among Amis the Elder’s contemporaries, Dick Francis features Laphroaig in his novel Proof. Among Amis the Younger’s peers, Will Self brings his 1998 novel Great Apes to its conclusion with a bottle of the same Islay malt. The 1999 work Format C, by Chicagoan Edwin Black, quickly introduces Laphroaig, no fewer than four of the Classic Malts, Glenfiddich (specifically the 18 Year Old) and something called Timnavulin (I blame the proof-readers).

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