Whisky & Culture

Stimulating Investigations

We delve into another whisky laden tome
By Jefferson Chase
For the next few issues I thought it might be stimulating to investigate the relationship between whisky and the figure of the sleuth. Where could one possibly start other than with literature's most famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes? Arthur Conan Doyle's detective may be best known for his pipe and his cocaine addiction, but he also enjoys snuff, cigars and whisky-and-soda as well while solving mysteries.

I dug out an old copy of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and it took no time at all to immerse myself in the late Victorian world of stories like The Adventure of the Red-Haired League. It begins with Watson coming to 221B Baker Street to find Holmes talking with Jabez Wilson, who looks unremarkable except for his flaming red hair.

To Holmes, of course, it's a different story, as he himself tells us: "Beyond the obvious facts that the has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing."

Almost all the tales begin with the sleuth snidely demonstrating his amazing powers of observation. It's Doyle's version of 'Just one more question' from Columbo, both charming and reassuring.

Wilson, a pawn shop owner, tells of how, with the help of his assistant, he got a well-paid job from a charitable 'league' founded for the benefit of red-headed London males.

All he had to do was go an office for a few hours every afternoon and copy the Enyclopedia Britannica. But after several weeks, the 'league' disappeared without a trace.

Holmes' sympathy is limited: "I do not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary league. On the contrary, you are…richer by some thirty pounds, to say nothing of the minute knowledge which you have gained on every subject which comes under the letter A."

The sleuth quickly realises the 'league' is nothing but a red herring.

The story concludes with a nocturnal adventure that sees Holmes and Watson apprehending a criminal gang in the vault of a bank next to Wilson's pawn shop. The two then retire back to Baker Street for a libation: "You see, Watson," he explained in the early hours of the morning, as we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street., "It was perfectly obvious from the first that the possible object of this rather fantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying of the 'Encyclopedia,' must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a number of hours every day."

Sherlock Holmes stories are not about suspense - you don't need to be over-bright to solve the mystery of 'League' - but about how the sleuth arrives at the foregone conclusion. Although there may be temporary chaos in the world around Baker Street, that world is also rational, and order always gets restored in the end.

That's an idea which is as cosy and comforting as a nice whisky and soda in a relaxing leather armchair.