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Issue 61 - A quick word please

Whisky Magazine Issue 61
January 2007


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A quick word please

Ian Buxton uncovers some of the less heard whisky quotes

On publication of his novel, The Hippopotamus, people kept giving Stephen Fry toy hippos.

“It is really very kind of them,” said Fry, “but I have decided that my next book will be called 18 Year Old Malt Whisky.” And that got me to thinking…what else had folk to say about whisky?

As you might expect, Johnnie Walker drinker Winston S Churchill had plenty of wit and wisdom. Not the familiar “British element of ascendancy” quotation, but a recollection of his Boer War campaigning days caught my fancy: “The water was not fit to drink. To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learnt to like it.” He was not the first great Englishman to appreciate the benefits of a medicinal dram.

In 1773, James Boswell diligently recorded Dr Johnson calling for a glass: “Come, let me know what it is that makes a Scotchman happy!” What made a Scotchman happy was the right to pursue his traditional craft of distilling which, in the 18th century, was suspended by Parliament if the barley crop was deemed insufficient for the nation's food requirements.

One such occasion was in 1795/96 when William Pitt's government banned the making of low wines and spirits. The repeal of the order led an anonymous author to celebrate with verses entitled Cheap Whisky; A Familiar Epistle to Mr Pitt on the Recommencement of Distilling in Scotland: “An unusual portion of joy has thereby diffused among the lower classes in Scotland who indulge the pleasing hope of agai...

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