Funny Themes

We look at the whisky industry's love for an amusing name
By Hans Offringa
Private labelling of whisky is as old as bottling whisky itself. It started with the blenders who would give their own names to the whiskies purchased from different distilleries, hence the Dewars, Buchanans, Walkers, Chivas and Ballantines of this world. Before 1870, when labelling bottles started, their names would be blown into the bottle. A practise you can still see with some, lately The Naked Grouse, a funny take on the theme.

Independent bottlers such as Adelphi, G&M and Duncan Taylor label their whiskies accordingly, usually stating the origins of the distillery from where the single malt came. Of course with blends it is a different ball game. Brokers buy from distilleries, then sell in limited editions or in bulk to a variety of customers. For instance supermarket chains in France, Germany, England, Spain and Italy sell private label blends by the score. Names can even be a brand extension from a cigarette or clothing line. The latter two might not give you a reason to chuckle yet, but it illustrates how the industry adapts easily to giving fancy names.

Sometimes a supermarket, not hindered by any knowledge of product or language, hires a - Scottish? - whisky consultant with a particular sense of humour. When you are not a native English speaker, you might end up with a weird or crazy name for your blend. A wee while ago we were visiting friends in La Marche, halfway down the boot of Italy on the Adriatic coast. In Altidona's supermarket I came across this specimen, displaying the name Glen Horney. The employee who filled the shelves had put it next to Long John!

Italian sense of humour or lack of understanding? Who knows? ~ The Scottish blenders also sometimes show a preference for funny labels. A well-used and beloved topic is the monster of Loch Ness, of which a whole series of blends found its way to the consumer. One time you will encounter Nessie in a state of drunkenness and another label will tell you with unmitigated audacity that the famous loch's water is "deluxe".

Have a taste of that! uv Wordplay and double entendres are familiar and beloved territory. The next label might cause some confusion. Are we talking rum or whisky here? Well, there is a Scottish island, part of the Inner Hebrides with a similar name, albeit slightly differently spelled. { Here's one that can cause geographical errors. This blend is supposed to attract hill walkers and mountaineers. My first hunch was the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye, famous and notorious to walker and climber alike.

Further inspection of the label led me to a different conclusion. The name of the bottler unveils this is about Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, on which foot a distillery of the same name was founded in 1825, just outside the town of Fort William. And getting high at a certain altitude comes as no surprise to those who have experienced walking far above the tree line.

Personally I would never recommend skiing when having enjoyed a few drams before going up the mountain, but the blender of the whisky below shows no scruples at all. I recommend you take this in your chalet as an "après ski" aperitif, before going to dinner. x Every whisky lover is familiar with the Classic Malts and might have tasted a dram from the famous green and copper plinth with its six malts from all corners of Scotland. Not many among them might know about the existence of a Classic Blend. For instance Mozart and Liszt were lovers of an alcoholic beverage in their time, and known as real party animals. So why not take a classic composer's name for your blend?

There is music in whisky after all, at least according to me. Witnesses thereof being my own limited Jazz and Blues Editions of Springbank. | Personal health is a favourite topic for mockery among part of the population.

A dram a day keeps the doctor away is something with which many among us might agree. James Hogg, a Scottish poet and writer born in 1770, also known as The Ettrick Shepherd, once put it this way: "If a body could find out the exac' proper proportion and quantity that ought to be drunk every day, and keep to that, I verily trow that he might leeve for ever, without dying at a', and that doctors and kirkyards would go oot o' fashion".

He never found out for himself since he died in 1835, only 64 years old. The following two labels play with this theme. w} The next label advertises a rather peculiar kind of blend. After all whisky is made from alcohol obtained out of fermentable sugars. Either this is an enigma or a rather cynical joke. y The last one to bring to your attention is one of the funniest labels I came across in the Craigellachie collection. z The story goes that a bottler from Leith (the old Edinburgh harbour) came up with the name. We're talking about a whisky with 75% ABV (!). I do not expect this blend was actually for sale in retail, but for a bottler based in Edinburgh it is an amazing piece of Glaswegian humour:

One glass of this will put you under,

It's sure to drive you round the bend,

Your innards will explode like thunder,

And this will mean the bloody end.