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Brigadoon

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 of Benrinnes.

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 of it.

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 the change.

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 afraid.

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.

Jim Baxter

 


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