By Dave Broom

Absolute Beginners

Dave Broom recalls his first encounter with the water of life
It started, age 14 going on 15 at Loch Awe with some friends from the Scouts, trying out our new hiking tents. The weekend, if nothing else, rigorously tested the tents' waterproofing. It rained as only it can in Scotland, spouts of water cascaded from the heavens, then shifted in the wind to the horizontal. It was relentless, freezing. Everything was so wet that the inside of my skull seemed saturated. On the first night we'd knocked back some cans of beer, but by the second it was clear more drastic action was needed. "I've got this" said one of my companions, bringing out a half-bottle purloined from his father's cupboard.

I can remember the location, the stuffy confines of a three man tent piled with steaming heaps of wet gear, lying inside a sleeping bag trying to dry out and work out the precise configuration of the rocks underneath, around which I'd have to arrange my spine. The odd thing is that I cannot recall what whisky it was.

I recall the effect, the way it hit and dragged itself across the tongue, its chilli heat, its weird mix of sweetness and dangerous potency, how it cooled in the throat and, on hitting the stomach, how it acted like a tumble drier sending a blast of heat through the body, burning the brain banishing the damp. So this was whisky.

I'd been around it of course. In those days it was impossible not to be. My father was a whisky drinker. Black and White at home, thanks to my uncle who worked for Lowries; Grouse when we went to visit family in Perth. When there, the evening would end with us, uncles, aunts, cousins crammed into the front room, the ladies on the sherry, the men on drams, pipes and cigarettes. By the time we children were sent upstairs it was virtually impossible to discern which shape was your parent, the fug was so thick. The smell of whisky in the air, fueling the songs and laughter.

My days in Perth were marked by whisky. I'd meet my cousins at Dewar's Corner and play football at the Bell's Centre, then walk home past Gloag's wine shop to the house at Cherrybank, where Bells was building its new HQ.

Whisky was a normal part of the day. My father taught me how to add water to his nightly dram "just enough son, just enough to haze the dram" and I'd watch as it moved and swirled in the cut glass.

Within a few months I could calibrate the required amount of dilution in whatever glass by eye. By the end of the year I was handling the pouring of the drams themselves.

It's odd to think that I was seeing the passing of the last whisky generation in Scotland, the men who had followed a time-honoured progression into manhood that started with diluting their fathers' drams, then progressed through sitting upstairs on the bus where the smokers and 'No Spitting' signs were, then cigarettes, then into pubs for shandies, then beers and finally the seal of manhood, the first legal dram. With that first sip the doors of childhood were closed and whisky would become your drink for life.

It was laid out for me, as it had been for them, like the first work suit on the bed, but by the time I left home there were other alcoholic options to explore - wine, beer, rum.

I turned away, not noticing how the old sureties of life were disappearing along with the whisky landmarks - Dewar's Corner, Cherrybank, Gloag's shop, Black and White's plant at Stepps, the Washington Street offices, Teacher's in St Enoch Square, the way-posts of life gone, the set path now indistinct and with them went the piano, fiddle and smoke and my parent's generation.

Now I see that though I resisted, to some extent the whisky training worked, that damp teenager in the soggy tent falling in love with this head-spinning, chest blazing, heart racing liquid. It's different these days, but somewhere at this moment someone is taking their first sip and finding their own path. Some things disappear, others simply shape-shift.