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Issue 27 - The pleasure principle

Whisky Magazine Issue 27
November 2002


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The pleasure principle

Dave Broom considers the reasons for whisky's lack of popularity among young people in norhern Europe, and what should be done about it

It was in Jerez where it was brought home to me. We'd been out for a meal and a few bottles of fino had been dispatched, leading us on to a nightcap … or three, which is how I came to be standing in a bar talking to a girl from Logroño about the difference between northern and southern cultures. This was hardly a serious debate, more a friendly slanging match, but behind the joking she had a serious point, namely that for all our alleged wild abandon we Scots had trouble really enjoying ourselves.

I wondered whether it could be a Celtic thing, then remembered the Irish. I tried to talk about The Great Caledonian Antisyzygy but that's not an easy phrase to use at 3am. You haven't heard of it? Coined by Gregory Smith, versified by Robert Garioch, it defines the Scottish psyche as a clash of opposites. For every glimpse of joy, there's an equal (or greater) dose of pain. The Caledonian Antisyzygy colours our attitude to whisky. The drink's primary function from the start was to please the consumer, but in Presbyterian Scotland this has been mutated into being happy for a night then repenting bitterly the next day. The result is that a sort of gloomy appreciation of the drink has sprung up. How can it be that something which tastes this good can actually be good?

This also applies to most northern Europeans – and north Americans. People in these countries don't enjoy whisky. We like it, but we do tend to take it too seriously. Instead of taking pleasure in drinking whisky...

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