By Dave Broom

Moments, whatnots and wheelbarrows

Dave Broom gets a round. Kind of
People don’t like whisky. Cue the sound of jaws dropping around Whisky Mag’s readership, but allow me to repeat. People don’t like whisky. Lots of people in fact. When it comes to spirits they’d rather drink vodka. Why? Because it mixes easily, is an inoffensive, middle-of-the-road hit of liquor which (with a few notable exceptions), doesn’t tax the tastebuds or the brain. Vodka, if you like, is Travis and Bon Jovi. Whisky on the other hand is like Skip James or Ornette Coleman. It’s different, awkward. It would like you to love it, but ultimately you have to make the first effort, meet it more than half way.Most people can’t be bothered to make that effort. When they listen to Skip James they can’t understand his twisted, bitter brilliance. They listen to Ornette and hear noise, not layers of complexity. But it is the ability to rise above the mundane that makes whisky such an inspiring, intriguing alcohol. You can have great whisky moments, but I can’t say I’ve ever had a gin ephipany, or a vodka awakening.Whisky percolates its way into your consciousness, becomes part of the event. When you taste the same whisky again, those memories return. You might expect my great whisky moments to centre around the first taste of something grand and rare, but for me that instant of perfection comes when the drink has given an extra edge to the experience is inextricably linked to it, when the dram becomes the moment.Great Whisky Moment No1: my first proper drink came in a tent halfway up Ben Vorlich. I was 15. Cold. Wet. It was either the half-bottle of whisky one of us has managed to buy at an offie in Stirling or bottled Guinness. It rasped the back of my throat and detonated a thermal device in my chest. The steadily falling rain and the fact that we were ever so slightly lost was forgotten. It was one of those crucial moments when many people swear never to touch whisky again while others succumb. I succumbed.Great Whisky Moment No2: Drinking a bottle of Aberlour with friends while watching Primal Scream in the freezing rain at Glastonbury. What connects the two? Elevation over misery. Whisky as precisely the right drink at the right time. That’s another of its qualities. You see, whisky is not just a social lubricant, allowing you to talk about the big things in life and trivia with equal lucidity. Unlike vodka it transcends being a drink. It is more than a recipe, a wood type, a peating level.Great Whisky Moment No3: Driving from Scourie to Ullapool with a bottle of Talisker 8yo 100Þ for refreshment (someone else was driving). Recalling that triggers another connection. Talisker doesn’t just remind me of Skye, but of Ken Hyder’s band of the same name and the fact that poet Don Paterson who has written the best ever poem about whisky bar none [A Private Bottling, from God’s Gift to Women] used to play guitar with them. It goes much deeper. Ken Hyder has been recording recently with a shaman from the Tuvan tundra, which in turn reminds me of a theory about wheelbarrows and whisky which UDV’s malts tzar Nick Morgan came up with.Nick discovered an old account of drinking practices in the islands where there’s mention of how men would sit in a circle drinking for days while people with wheelbarrows waited for them to collapse then wheeled them home. For him this is evidence not just of the origins of the ‘round’ of drinks, but of whisky used in a ritualistic/shamanic way. Why did they do it? To talk the night away, to elevate themselves to a higher plane, to lose inhibition. Not a drowning of sorrows, but an elevation of the mind. Why then is whisky so often reduced to a string of data and a price tag these days? Faced with that interpretation I’ll head for the tundra with my wheelbarrow every time.