Whisky Magazine Issue 17
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Dave Broom considers why Scotch has become the chosen tipple for British soap opera characters hell-bent on self-destruction
Admission: I love soaps. I pretend it's because I like the serious examination of the major themes of human existence, but really I'm just a shallow old gossip eavesdropping on other people's lives.
I love these self-contained universes. The fact that no-one buys wine from an off-licence but always from the pub, that they never go to the toilet (or watch soap operas), or that they casually forget they have lost any number of children – soap people are unnaturlly fertile. It's reality TV with the comedy and tragedy of everyday life cranked up, like the amps in Spinal Tap, to 11.
Soap characters are defined by a cunning system of shorthand: we know what they are like by their make-up, clothes, accent and what they eat and drink. Occasionally one of these signs has an extra resonance. Like whisky.
Let's face it, whisky has a very bad image in UK soaps. While beer, like tea and wine, is quaffed as a sign of comfy, mild-mannered, middle-class conformity, whisky is the devil's own brew, drunk by thugs, depressives and wide boys. Asking for a Scotch in a British soap is to signify that you are either desperate or deeply untrustworthy.
In EastEnders, refuge from depression is found in Scotch. Ian Beale may have kept up a brave front over his bankruptcy but his increased thirst for Scotch revealed the turmoil behind his snide exterior. When Grant Mitchell faced up to the fact that his wife had been having an affair with his brother, this confirmed lager drinker suddenly develop...