Bennrinnes 15 Year Old Single
Malt Scotch Whisky
Not all Scots are fussy
about Scotch just because it’s made in Scotland.
However, fussy or not, what a lot of Scots notice is
how ordinary, how rough, how plain bloody dreadful the
Scotch is that a lot of non-Scots get fussy about. It’s
not that there’s something wrong with the rest
of you. It’s just that you’ve been deprived.
You haven’t tasted the light.
You can tell the difference
between the Scot who’s a whisky snob and the Scot
who likes whisky. The snob owns whisky bottles with
whisky in them. You won’t find any whisky in my
house, but I’ve got some beautiful empties. Remember
what Lyndon B. Johnson said about the difference between
a bottle of Scotch emptied into one man in an hour and
one emptied into him in a day? He was right about that.
He’d spotted my mistake long before I made it.
I have an excuse though. The bottle was my first bottle
Nothing prepares you for
it. Reading this won’t prepare you for it. The
folk who make it might be gentle folk, for all I know,
but I suspect they’re raving madmen. Because not
much Benrinnes gets away from them. They keep it close
to home. And if they’re drinking that stuff themselves…
Its availability in the
city follows some weird algorithm, perhaps an inverse
square law based on a hard-to-know quantum unit of distance
from its source. Someone like me who lives in Glasgow,
150 miles from where it’s transmuted from the
ineffable Speyside, has to stalk the stuff through fancy
shops where the young staff (who are planning much more
important careers for themselves than trading whisky)
will deny that it exists. I have to make them look it
up in their books before they will even look for it
on their shelves. Sometimes I have to tell them that
they have books to look it up in. And when it turns
out that they do have it, which is less than half the
time, there are only one or two bottles to be had. God
knows what chance the rest of you have of getting hold
I know I could order it
directly from the distillers, a case at a time. But
it’s better this way. When I set out to get a
bottle, I half hope that I won’t find it, that
maybe it only appears in the mist once every 100 years
and I won’t be seeing it again in my lifetime.
No other whisky makes me feel that way, no matter how
good or bad a time I’ve had with it. With other
whiskies, either I want to get wrecked — blootered
as they say in Glasgow — or I don’t. But
Benrinnes gives me an approach-avoidance conflict. Sometimes
it shows me things that I don’t always want to
see, and it shows me them while I’m still sober.
I first saw
it in a bar in the Scottish Highlands. Amidst the gaudy
cooking malts up on the gantry it had, with its plain
brown label, an unobtrusive dignity like the True Grail
in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I ordered a quarter
gill of it which is the usual Scottish measure. I hoped
for a rich taste and a warm buzz. Instead, the first
sip altered physics. I stepped into an alternative version
of my life, one where I was a much richer, much more
important, much more powerful man. One in which I’d
lived right. Of course, enough of any drink can give
you that feeling. That’s why we drink it. But
Benrinnes is so refined, so indomitably self-assured
that it makes you feel that way about yourself right
away, suddenly, while you are still in a state to notice
Maybe I should have left
it at that, like holiday sex with a stranger, exhilarating,
disturbing, but definitely not the start of a relationship.
For a long time that’s what I did. Until
I saw another bottle, just one, when I was looking for
something else in an ordinary liquor store where I should
have been safe. I felt like the art expert who
finds a Rembrandt in a junk-shop. I paid the ordinary
price they asked for something that wasn’t ordinary
at all and hurried out of there feeling both smug and
I locked myself in and shut
out the light. It was all over very quickly. One of
the powers that such a mellow but mighty whisky confers
is the power to drink it all in one brief session with
total impunity. It also confers the power to set your
social life straight, to tell it like it is. All you
need is a telephone and your address book. We all know
what it’s like to say things drunk that you regret
when sober. That day I said quite a lot of things and
quite a few people haven’t spoken to me since.
Here’s what’s different: when I sobered
up I didn’t regret a word. I still don’t.
It sounds terrible. I might have hurt people’s
feelings and I felt no remorse. The Benrinnes didn’t
give me Dutch courage. It turned me into the kind of
man I felt I should be. Honest. There would be no more
pretense with people who weren’t my type any more
than I was theirs. I wouldn’t miss them and they
wouldn’t miss me. We were all better off.
But I did feel
slightly guilty about something else. I felt I’d
mistreated a rare and great whisky. If you want to drink
whisky at an industrial rate you might as well drink
whisky that’s made at that rate. Most blends are.
But Benrinnes is a single malt made by craftsmen, to
be cherished and approached with reverence. That’s
how I approach it now. A bottle lasts me two days and
it’s months before I have another. It’s
not moderation. It’s respect.