” .. Choice flavours, like custard creams and Fisherman’s Friend, and choice knowledge ..”
For a start that’s a crafted title. If you know your whisky making, you might think ‘Angel’s Share’, but precious little escapes the ken of the Whisky Anorak. Take naval flags, for example. If you’re out in a dinghy in the Firth, would you recognise the signal flag ‘Delta’? Me neither. Well, set a course for the old Board Room at Jenner’s and drink your fill of select knowledge, chased down by some very distinctive whiskies. You’ll leave it a happier and wiser person.
OK, it’s a fun history lesson of the 20th Century with three drams – a mellow Spoken Word event rather than ‘Theatre’, but so what? It’s clear, easy-going, and I learnt good stuff. Next time you nose a whisky, hold the glass to one nostril and then to the other one. Sensational! What’s the connection between the Monarch of the Glen – the painting of 1851 – and the 1967 album cover of the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’? What did the ‘Right Spirit Boys’ use for a cricket bat in 1930? And, your last snifter, what was the CIA’s Project MKUltra all about?
John Mark Di Ciacca is the Whisky Anorak. He has years of experience in the drinks trade behind him and tells us all the answers over the course of ninety minutes. He talks, he uses a PowerPoint slideshow throughout, and he has significant objects: books, bottles, art works, album covers – all over the front of the oak panelled Board Room. It’s a smallish space, with room for ten to twelve, comfortably seated at two nicely dressed long tables with three spotless Glencairn glasses (with tasting caps) at each cover. A teaspoon is to hand to add water – not too much! – and you do need it with the 56.3% Dalmore …
I’m sure there is ‘structure’ to an excellent whisky. John Mark did not use the word but he does use the drink(s) to assemble his talk. Three bottles, three time periods: 1850s to the early 1900s; the 1920s – just consider the effect of Prohibition in the USA upon the whisky business – through to the 1950s; and then from the Cold War to the Internet and beyond. His theme is the liminal, tracing the development of a counter culture whose markers are just visible at the edge of school history books. To take one example: dazzle camouflage from the 1914 -18 war links to Aldous Huxley’s mescaline-induced ‘The Doors of Perception’ (1954) that in turn opens up to ‘The Doors’ (1968) on the tripping West Coast scene in a summer of love.
In-between times, and the lesson dragged just a tad during the 1960s, we enjoyed our whisky tasting and John Mark offered some choice flavours, like custard creams and Fisherman’s Friend, and choice knowledge of old bottle effect and of casks and ‘finishing’.
Where have we got to? Well, the whisky trade has boomed and bust and boomed again, from the Blend to the Single Malt to ‘maybe a product that has lost its way’ where a Dalmore 19 year old ‘Constellation’ bottle can be yours for around £11,000. And as far as the moral story of humanity is concerned, John Mark is a Trekkie, confessing that “The Federation is the way forward.”
That Delta question? Here’s the answer: ‘Keep clear of me; I am manoeuvering with difficulty.” Neat.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 13 August)
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