By Jim Murray

An illusion of quality

Even Jim Murray can be fooled into thinking a whisky is better than it is
There is a lot to be said about drinking whisky in situ. Whisky is a romantic subject; and what can be more engaging than drinking the water of life at the very place where it is conceived? But it is a practice fraught with danger. How many times have you come home and opened the wine, spirit or liqueur that had so bewitched you whilst on holiday? Yes, that same rare bottle that you painstakingly (and heavily) carried back in your hand luggage, only to wonder what had suddenly happened to your tastebuds, or (more probably) the drink. I've heard many similar tales of whiskies which, though captivating when tasted at the distillery, had somehow transformed themselves into something grotesquely boring, even actively unpleasant, the moment they crossed your threshold.So it is when I write tasting notes. Nineteen times out of 20 I will have tasted a whisky not only at the distillery but also at home. It takes away some of the magic, but it's necessary. Even so, there are times, like now as I write this, when the pulses race. I'm sitting in a tiny hotel room in what was once the pile of the Greenlees family who owned the Hazelburn distillery and created the Claymore blend.I chose this room because, by moving the table and craning my neck a little to the left, I have a spectacular view of the entrance to Campbeltown Loch and the surrounding hills. The idea is that a little inspiration will be reflected off the dark waters and into the Campbeltown chapter of my book in progress. Hopefully.And, naturally I have at my side three glasses: one contains the Campbeltown Loch blend, another a 14-Year-Old Glen Scotia and the last one the darkest 12-Year-Old Springbank I have ever set eyes on. All taste marvellous. Though, of course, I know they are not. The Glen Scotia
is slightly feinty and cannot make up its mind whether it wishes to be a single malt or a flame thrower. The Campbeltown Loch is just a tad more grain-rich than perhaps it ought to be. Only the Springbank, for its age, escapes censure.In reviewing them, I will slate the first two. And if I were at home I would shudder and shake my head sadly. But
here in this tiny room in a pioneering Campbeltown distiller's home, they taste nothing short of sensational. That is the magic of whisky, the most impressive illusion of them all.Now a memorial to somebody who died in the week before I wrote this, and with whom I had enjoyed a memorable dram.He was called Dave Sutch. Outside Britain he was hardly known, but here he was Screaming Lord Sutch, a rock musician of limited ability but a talented leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, who made a point of challenging Prime Ministers armed only with a leopardskin suit, a top hat, a manifesto and a smile. One early summer morning in Devon about ten years ago Dave and I shared an outdoor breakfast.He then spotted the remains of my large dram from the night before which I had brought down to finish before
getting into a spot of bird-watching. 'Ah, whisky,' he said. 'When I get into Number Ten I'll change the excise, so that the more water is in it, the heavier the tax. We're short of water. But there will always be plenty of whisky.' For that split second I could have voted for him.