By Michael Jackson

Southern sinners

Lithuanian mead put Michael Jackson on the malt laden road. Here he talks about some friends he met along the way
In a fashionable and allegedly southwestern-style restaurant called the Roaring Fork, in Scottsdale, Arizona, I was recently offered The Quintessential Martini. What’s a racey drink like a martini doing in a God-fearing column like this? Come to that, what was I doing in the Roaring Fork? I was consorting with sinners, better that the righteous shall recognise them and their works. This particular work involved a large jigger of Bombay Sapphire gin; a hint of the brandy-tinged vermouth Lillet; and a drop of The Macallan. With a large jigger of The Macallan, and no gin, it could be the next big drink. Anything is possible. Did you notice the potion offered by Judy Dench, as M, to Pierce Brosnan in the latest James Bond film The World Is Not Enough? I would swear it was Talisker. Talisker explodes in the mouth, according to one critic. Derek Cooper, I think.The nearest thing to oral Semtex I have experienced recently was a smoky, acidic, 1992 Longrow. This was slipped to me under the table by someone I met in Austin, Texas. “We must hurry,” he urged, as I finished my Longrow (it was a particularly long one). “Why the rush?” I demanded, preferring to encounter such spirits at the speed of a slow collapse into a leather armchair. “Because it will soon be midnight,” he said, glaring at his watch. “And your Georg Riedel tasting glass will turn into a pumpkin?” I parried. I could see that our friendship was already under strain. “This is the last day of the month,” he sighed. So? Then he explained. If we got there before midnight, we could benefit from a bargain-price tasting of the current malt-of-the-month. If we lingered after the witching hour, we could have a comparably delightful experience with next month’s malt.The malt of the month when we arrived was Ledaig 15-year-old, with enough salt to inspire Hebridean reveries over the armadillo eggs (never drink without a lining on your stomach). As the new month dawned, the flavour switched to Islay seaweed, with a 1975 Ardbeg. Such demonstrations of zeal for Scottish single malts no longer surprise me, however unlikely the location. I was recently shown a bronzed handprint of Ian Grieve, master blender. This was mounted on the wall at a bar-restaurant called Taco Mac, near Atlanta, Georgia. There are several Taco Macs, three of them run by a man named Andy Klubock, a former law student turned publican. Each one has a huge selection of beers and whiskies. This latest in Cumming, Georgia, has 325 whiskies, about half of them malts. “Why whisky?” I asked, unnecessarily. “In the early days, I had a meeting with Willie Phillips, who was then distillery manager at The Macallan. We met in Glasgow. When it was time to part, he not only insisted on walking me to the train station, but made sure I was comfortably seated on the right train. I knew this man would have a great influence on my life.” I listened to his story, and ventured: “You were like St Paul on the road to Damascus?” Andy’s face assumed a mantle of reverence. He informed me, “I am a direct descendant of the 18th century Jewish scholar Elijah Gaon, of Vilna, Lithuania.” I was able to tell Andy that my grandmother was born and raised in the self-same city before emigrating to Leeds, Yorkshire. The Lithuanian mead my grandmother made in the cellar may have started me on the road to being the Maven of Malt (The Wall Street Journal ).Once, as the mead was being decanted, a mouse emerged. Was it dead? you ask. Well, dead drunk. “This mead has body,” observed my father. He told the story many times, never failing to laugh at his own joke.