Drinking Scottish malt whisky can easily be compared to losing your virginity, having several relationships and eventually falling in love: The first timer is nervous, trying to prove them-self to what may be an experienced partner (or more usually, someone trying to bluff experience while being as naive as the company they are in). So they plunge headlong into their new-found lustful relationship, proclaiming to all who will listen that they know what they are doing. They very often head west, having heard rumours of the seductiveness of all things Highland and Hebridean – lost in a Celtic fantasy world which sometimes fails to live up to the hype. But they have committed themselves, talked a good game and tried to indulge the dream, too scared to admit they may actually not have the knowledge they claim. The resulting experience is often rough, clumsy and at times quite uncomfortable. But you know you liked it – maybe?
Several of your peers try to tell you where you went wrong. They tell you about their various 18, 21 and 30 year old conquests, evenings spent caressing dark lovers from Islay, Jura and Skye. They each try to tell you that this one was best, or that one, leaving little scope for the novice to make their own choice, find their own way and digest their own experiences.
And then it happens: you were enjoying playing the field when all of a sudden you are blindsided, shaken from your dwam by something your erstwhile friends try to tell you is less sophisticated than their fulsome and plentiful partners from out west. But already you know it. It is instinctive – this is no casual relationship. No longer a novice (you long since tired of the limitations of the medicinal flavours of the kelpen temptresses from the west). This new found love of yours is more likely to be from Speyside (the blonde Glenlivet 18, 21 or Archive; Balvenie – but not the tampered wood finished; that redhead Glendronach – 18, 21 or 30). Subtle, smooth, and the ones in their 20s are truly sublime. Sitting many years after you get together with this new love you laugh at those first fumbling experiences behind the bike-shed. You reflect on those early affairs – and stay confidently silent as some of your friends still play the field. But you know love will always eclipse lust and surpass those days when you tried to impress your mates (and when you knew yourself you did not have a clue what you were doing or talking about). That’s not to say you cannot find love in the west – Bunnahabhain Auld Acquaintance is a particular stunner – but overall, for this whisky lover, those Speyside beauties win out (almost) every time.
First Published in M-Press, February 2010