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Edinburgh detective ages aswell as his whisky

Roddy Martine shares a dram with Ian Rankin as he celebrates 20 years of his most famous creation,Inspector Rebus
By Roddy Martine
Having to date immersed myself in 12 of his 17 crime scene investigations, I reckon I recognise the role model for the fictional Inspector John Rebus of Edinburgh’s Oxford Bar. In fact, I know him well. Having lived in the central belt of Scotland for most of my life, I should do by now. I see him every day on the street; I encounter him on the train, and on buses.More strategically, I regularly meet him in pubs, expounding upon his very own, distinctly Scottish brand of received wisdom.Scarred by experience, he is obstinate and distrustful. At the same time, he can be kind and emotional in the same breath. In England he’d be referred to as the salt of the earth. He is the no-nonsense, tough guy, steeped in Presbyterian pessimism, who dresses badly and secretly loves books and music. He likes the company of women, but is unprepared to compromise his work ethic.As a result, he eats junk food to pump up his cholesterol. He drinks IPAwith a chaser, yet here comes another surprise. He knows a good dram when he scents it, mainly because it helps him to escape from the selfconstructed image of his own futility, an image that finds him ‘at his happiest when in denial.’ Of course, others know better.As his creator, the best-selling author Ian Rankin, concedes, “There are layers to his personality, and many of those layers stay hidden, in the grand Scots tradition.” It was only a matter of time before somebody came up with the idea of bottling him as a cask strength single malt.In his most recent book Rebus’s Scotland – A Personal Journey, Rankin makes an attempt to analyse Rebus, almost as if embarking upon a mission to understand himself. Rebus is the older man, but there are so many parallels.For a start, both were born and brought up in the Kingdom of Fife which, as every Fifer will tell you, bestows upon its sons and daughters a gritty common sense. “My background is Rebus’,” says Ian, “therefore he must have shared at least a few of my underage adventures.” But after that, of course, their destinies separated - Rebus into the army aged fifteen, then into the City of Edinburgh Police Force (now Lothians & Borders Police Force); Rankin to Edinburgh University and onward to literary fame via London and France. What bonds them thereafter, however, is a shared love/hate affair with Scotland’s Capital, which, alongside New York and Tokyo, must surely be one of the best places on earth to consume a single malt.“There’s a cynicism here,” writes Rankin, “but also longing on the part of Rebus: he’s desperate for answers to the questions he poses.” So can something about these illusive characters, Rebus and Rankin, be gleaned from Highland Park Rebus 20, Rankin’s inspired choice of a single cask malt?This March sees the 20th anniversary of the publication of Knots & Crosses, Rankin’s first Rebus book. Tocelebrate this, and the massive success of an author who has now been translated into 29 language, Ian was invited to visit Highland Park Distillery on Orkney, and was given the opportunity to choose a cask of 20-year old, surely every Scotsman’s dream.The Knots & Crosses logo of the original front cover features on the label.In The Naming of the Dead, published 2006, Rebus drinks a dram of Highland Park, so would not be unappreciative of the ongoing association with his name.“I was educated into drinking whisky as a gifted amateur,” admits Ian modestly, going on to confide, as if one might not have suspected, that he has enjoyed his fair share of Scotch in his lifetime. “Mostly late at night at home with a book on my lap,” he adds.The life of a writer, when at work, is solitary, more so than in other vocations, and whisky, as so many of the immortals have found, fuels the spirit in more ways than one.In Ian’s case, his baptism came in 1979, after his first year at university, when he and an American friend embarked on a two week distillery tour, sleeping overnight in a car and turning up at the distillery gates first thing in the morning.Since then, his enjoyment of the “cratur” has been purely social and for relaxation. “But the tutored tasting I received at Highland Park was a first,” he says firmly, insisting that, even under the expert guidance of Gerry Tosh, Highland Park’s global brand ambassador, he had a first hand input with the tasting notes.“There’s a Jekyll and Hyde thing about whisky which ideally fits Rebus’s personality,” says Ian. “I had a choice from five casks and I wasn’t sure at first. When I was shown the one we eventually chose, I thought it rather too dark, but I’m now convinced that we’ve got it right. Rebus suits a dark caramel colour, a rugged manly, smokey whisky. The one we’ve got is certainly the one I think Rebus would prefer, but with perhaps a bit more bite than I would go for myself.” “Remember, Rebus has a long nose.Having said that, he’d probably add a bit of water to the glass, although he doesn’t like ice and he hates people who drown their drams.” Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery is also producing a Rebus draught beer to mark the anniversary. The launch of both these products will lead up to the publication of the next Rebus novel in October, which is scheduled to see Rebus’s retirement.On his visit to the Highland Park Distillery, and having posed for photographs in hurricane winds at the Ring of Brodgar, Ian was delighted to be given an additional cask of his very own for future consumption.“Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait twelve to sixteen years before I can claim it,” he said.Life is tough. By then Chief Inspector John Rebus will have been long retired and well into his seventies. What more could one want for one’s old age?•Don’t miss the next edition of Whisky Magazine for an exclusive competition and your chance to win one of the very limited Rebus bottles.