“Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story” by Robert Bruce Lockhart

If you are mildly interested in the history of Scottish whisky then you can go no wrong with this book written by Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart.

Lockhart, died 20 years ago, and was from a completely different era with a word play that you would expect from the upper-class snobbish of an old boy that can only bring a smile to your face.   To give you a hint of how he sees the world, here is an excerpt that had me in titters …

  • On my way back from a fishing expedition, my hired car broke down outside a tiny cottage on the Grantown-Tomintoul road. Before the door stood a tall spare man who lent my driver a bicycle and, while the driver went off to get another car, I talked with the man.

Creeps up on you doesn’t it?  Written as if he had broken down while driving around the roads of the Scottish Highlands, but no, it wasn’t he that was put out, but his driver!  Classic.

This attitude is to be embraced and enriches the journey Lockhart takes us on as he charts the history of whisky from its humbling beginnings in the Highlands to the international drink of choice it has become today.

Lockhart takes a look at the make up and personality of the expert whisky drinker with some classic lines:

  • ‘One whisky is all right, two is too much, and three is too few.’ Two makes you want another and after three you can’t stop.
     
  • I would define the average whisky drinker’s attitude towards his favourite drink as a wobble between what he really likes and what he thinks he ought to like.

  • Scotch malt is a he-man’s drink and goes with hard toil and strenuous exercise in the open air. Blended Scotch is for weaker stomachs.

He takes us through the process of how whisky is made and highlights some interesting facts that the average drinker is probably not aware of.

  • Malt whisky, which emerges from the spirit still as clear as gin, has to be matured in order to rid it of impurities and to improve its flavour.

  • Sherry in the wood which gave the malt whisky its rich amber colour, and depending on the size of the cask, malt whisky is at its best between the ages of eight and 15 years.

  • Nowadays, in order to obtain standardisation of colour the big whisky firms who control the trade use a solution of caramel

  • Contrary to a widespread belief, whisky does not improve in the bottle.

  • The use of the sherry cask and the consequent colouring of the whisky were probably accidental, and whatever the advertising wizards may say, the colouring in itself has only a small effect on the flavour.

Another interesting tale he talks to us about is the consumption of whisky in England, Ireland and Scotland … showing the Scottish know how to drink (which still holds by the way in 2013!).

  • In 1842 England with a population of 15,000,000 consumed 7,956,054 gallons of spirit (mainly brandy, gin and rum) or approximately half a gallon per mouth of population.

    Ireland with a population of just over 8,000,000 consumed 5,290,650 gallons; roughly two-thirds of a gallon per mouth.

    Scotland with a population of 3,620,184 drank 5,595,186 gallons, mostly whisky, or more than two gallons per mouth of population!

The book is packed full of interesting tidbits, including the differences with American whiskey (note the extra ‘e’) and how he believes that it shouldn’t be called anything near whisky as it is not made from barley but instead corn or rye/grain.   Now that said, Lockhart is so loyal to the Highland single malt that he barely recognizes the Lowlands as officially in Scotland (and he considers Edinburgh to be in the Lowlands!).

I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed the tone, including the very detailed account of the Burns Supper in Dumfries as he toured the infamous Globe Inn and local spots.

If you enjoy a good single malt (here is where I do agree with him, blended malts are not to be even considered whisky) then this book will have you tittering and give you an insight into that beautiful, smooth, silky liquid that you hold in your hand.

“Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story” by Robert Bruce Lockhart