I am in southern Spain. More importantly I am in Spain on holiday (which technically means I shouldn't be writing this). More importantly again, I'm in Spain drinking Fino. Can anything be more right in my world? Maybe some of you disagree. Have a dram instead Dave, you might say. Sorry. Fino it is, because it is the right drink, at the right time, in the right place. It's from here. The food works with it. Last night I drank Fino throughout the meal, only stopping in order to down what seemed like a half pint of PX (over) generously poured by the waiter.
It's been a journey of rediscovery, like the dusty sherry bar in Madrid which I'd last propped up around 17 years ago. Little has changed, maybe some more dust on the old bottles, the mildly dubious tapas, the idea that you are part of this secret club. Or Bar Castañeda in Granada last seen in an even more distant past where I sat and scribbled thoughts inspired by the Alhambra's peace - a place which I now realise, older, grey, bearded, was a trigger to change paths and start a career in writing.
17 years is a long time. It's longer than my daughter has been alive, but is as long as Whisky Magazine has existed. I'd forgotten until I checked that my first piece was actually published in Issue one. It was about Speyside. It wasn't very good, so don't bother looking it up. We were all - bar Michael Jackson - trying to finding a new way of writing about something which was still mildly obscure. Sometimes we managed it and sometimes it was extremely difficult.
This was a time when more people were rejecting whisky than accepting it, when the notion of a whisky cocktail would be met with horror. It was a time when single malt was still growing into the shape it now holds; a time when Japanese whisky was unknown on export markets, Canadian whisky was cheap, Irish whiskey was a speciality, and premium Bourbon was still trying to break through. The only place where people were drinking Scotch in volume, it now strikes me, was Spain.
17 years isn't a long time in whisky's story, but look where we are now. A new generation drinking, whisky cocktails, the emergence of 'craft' distilleries in every country, a renaissance for Ireland, America and Canada, Japan resplendent. Where's Scotch? In decline? I don't believe so. Certainly it is tougher now than a few years ago, but like all whisky it is in a significantly better place.
Would that were the same with sherry. It seems as if I'm currently trying to do my best to single-handedly rescue the industry one bottle at a time, but the fact is that sherry has retreated to its heartland. It has gone into the same decline as Irish, Japanese, rye and numerous other whisky styles experienced - the same void that yawned at Scotch in the 1980s before Spain helped to rescue it.
What has sherry done wrong in all these years? Nothing in terms of quality. It simply didn't realise that the world had moved on. It was too slow, it was a victim of circumstance. Now though sherry seems to be clawing its way back. It's behind every bar, is being drunk with food, used in cocktails, sporting new packaging, being sold in a new way. A generational shift has taken place. Sherry is, dare I use the word, hip. It is a long way back, but at least some revival is underway.
Some may hold that the cyclical nature of drinks means the best anyone can do is manage the decline. Maybe there is a way to break free of this wheel. It lies in learning - really learning - from the past and using those lessons to pick up the burden and move onwards into the future. It might not always work but onwards we must go. To get stuck - like sherry did and whisky did before it - is to be doomed to repeat the same old tropes. So, I'll continue to work to Beckett's maxim, but also to Hunter S Thompson's, 'When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.'
It's time to hang up this particular hat. It's been 17 years of fun, it's been six editors, multiple drams, many late nights and great and lasting friendships. Now is time to find a new challenge. Thanks for riding with me. It's been a blast. See you somewhere.