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Issue 20 - Walsh and Gunn: the quiet maen

Whisky Magazine Issue 20
December 2001


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Walsh and Gunn: the quiet maen

Maurice Walsh and Neil Gunn – two celebrated authors slowly being rediscovered. Gavin Smith explains the appeal of these quintessential whisky writers.

In those halcyon days of the late 1970s before ‘whisky writers' had been invented and Scottish bookshops were forced to order new shelving units each spring and autumn to accommodate the glut of fresh whisky titles pouring forth from printers' warehouses, one whisky book stood out from all the others.

It certainly didn't stand out in terms of cover design, but in every other respect it was the Scotch whisky book. And despite everything that has gone since it remains, for this writer at least, the whisky book. It is called Whisky and Scotland, and was written by a certain Neil M. Gunn.

Whisky and Scotland was far from new in the 1970s, as Neil Gunn wrote what his publishers described as “this witty, indignant little book” during the mid-1930s, at a time when the Scotch whisky industry was in the economic doldrums, and single, or ‘self' whiskies as they were often known, were virtually unobtainable for the average drinker.

As a writer about whisky, Gunn is the antithesis of the Victorian ‘distillery-bagger' Alfred Barnard. Whereas Barnard took a slightly unsettling delight in chronicling the dimensions of everything he saw in each distillery he visited, Gunn was much more of a broad-brush man. For him the mystique of whisky-making and its role in Scottish history, legend and everyday life was what made it worth writing about. Faced with a washback, Barnard would have asked its capacity. Gunn wrote: “I have heard one of those backs rock and roar in a perfect rep...

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