By Dave Broom

The pleasure principle

Dave Broom considers the reasons for whisky's lack of popularity among young people in norhern Europe, and what should be done about it
It was in Jerez where it was brought home to me. We’d been out for a meal and a few bottles of fino had been dispatched, leading us on to a nightcap … or three, which is how I came to be standing in a bar talking to a girl from Logroño about the difference between northern and southern cultures. This was hardly a serious debate, more a friendly slanging match, but behind the joking she had a serious point, namely that for all our alleged wild abandon we Scots had trouble really enjoying ourselves.I wondered whether it could be a Celtic thing, then remembered the Irish. I tried to talk about The Great Caledonian Antisyzygy but that’s not an easy phrase to use at 3am. You haven’t heard of it? Coined by Gregory Smith, versified by Robert Garioch, it defines the Scottish psyche as a clash of opposites. For every glimpse of joy, there’s an equal (or greater) dose of pain. The Caledonian Antisyzygy colours our attitude to whisky. The drink’s primary function from the start was to please the consumer, but in Presbyterian Scotland this has been mutated into being happy for a night then repenting bitterly the next day. The result is that a sort of gloomy appreciation of the drink has sprung up. How can it be that something which tastes this good can actually be good?This also applies to most northern Europeans – and north Americans. People in these countries don’t enjoy whisky. We like it, but we do tend to take it too seriously. Instead of taking pleasure in drinking whisky – as in southern Europe – we ‘appreciate’ it. Since this is also reflected in the way in which whisky has been sold, maybe it’s no surprise that the bulk of younger people in northern climes don’t like whisky while those in the south do. This has frequently been put down to drinking culture, the allure of the exotic import, the heat, the amount of sunlight hours per year etc., and the industry has been content to accept this and continue to promote whisky in a sober, canny, cautious fashion. Maybe, just maybe, whisky’s success in places such as Spain has nothing to do with sun and Latin temperament but is down to the fact that it has been sold there as something which is (gulp) fun.Why don’t young people in northern Europe drink whisky? Because they think they don’t like the taste – but which firm has taken the trouble to educate them and show that there is a flavour and a style for everyone? These non-whisky drinking consumers also think that there are arcane rules about how to drink it. I was talking to one guy recently who was amazed that you were “allowed” (his words) to add a splash of water to a malt.The image encrusting the industry is one of gentlemen’s clubs, firelight, old men chuntering on in leather armchairs. It’s exactly the same image that wine had until a few years ago, before the Australians arrived and blew it out of the water. Fundamental to Australia’s rise to the UK’s most popular wine-producing country was the generic nature of its assault on the UK. The wine producers pooled resources and funded a campaign which got people drinking wine. The talk was of flavours not brands. Nothing like this has been tried in whisky. Apparently the industry’s generic body, the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association), isn’t allowed to promote whisky in this way as it may not involve every single brand.This is ludicrous. The need to educate people about the pleasures of whisky has never been greater and it should be within the SWA’s remit to get out there and get glasses in hands. Equally, distillers need to transform the dour, northern, Presbyterian image of whisky and start talking about how this drink is fun. The principle of pleasure.