Chasing the Dram

Chasing the Dram

We meet the BBC Radio 4 panellist behind a new whisky and food book

People | 01 Sep 2017 | Issue 146 | By Jonny McCormick

  • Share to:
Whisky is like middle-aged clubbing." Excuse me? Rachel McCormack is persuading me about her main conclusion on the whisky lifestyle from her new book Chasing the Dram. "If you remember how excited you used to get about getting dressed up on a Saturday night, then whisky can do that for you, in your forties, in a way that clubbing has no draw at all. It's true, it's really good fun. You get this rush of 'What are you trying? Where is it from? What's the cask? Where's the distillery?'" She's right, of course.

McCormack is known for her forthright opinions, dry sense of humour, her wealth of gastronomic expertise, and an appetite for success that secured her a regular slot as a panellist on The Kitchen Cabinet on BBC Radio 4. Eight years ago, she moved from the west of Scotland to London where she began to organise food events, run cooking classes and talk about food on the radio. "We don't cook much with whisky and we probably should. There's no point in doing a book with 110 recipes with whisky as that's not very interesting, so I thought, I'll do a road trip and I can learn about whisky whilst I'm going around." Chasing the Dram is like sitting at the bar with a friend and having a good blether [Scottish word for a lengthy chat] over some great drams. Scottish travelogue titles such as Tom Morton's Spirit of Adventure, and Iain Bank's Raw Spirit are her reference points rather than the distillery A-Z and numerical list books that have filled bookshop shelves in recent years. Fundamentally, it's about not taking whisky too seriously.

Rachel writes about Scotland in an honest and unembellished fashion, eschewing the fantasyland of kilts, bagpipes, haggis, and tartan. Should Scotch whisky adapt its message to the world? "Definitely not. Scotch whisky being sold abroad is nothing to do with us [the Scots]. We should just take the money, smile, and say thanks very much!" says Rachel with a grin. Many Scots have little idea about the huge influence Scotch whisky has around the world, "I met a girl from Islay serving in the Pot Still bar in Glasgow who thanked me for ordering an Islay whisky. I thought, have you any idea how many people would cry to be able to go and see your distilleries? They would shed actual tears to be on the same island." The book takes her from Loch Lomond Distillery to Springbank, Arran, Ben Nevis, Aberlour, and Tobermory, via Port Ellen maltings and coppersmiths Diageo Abercrombie. Each chapter is interspersed with a different whisky recipe to try, but the glory of the book lies in the characters, travelling companions, and the comic circumstances that ensue during eventful nights out. Though Rachel admits she felt like a newcomer at first, she is now fully immersed in the whisky scene. "I went to Dramboree and met Jason B. Standing. He's Australian, so everything he knows about Scotland he knows because of whisky, but he actually knows an awful lot about Scotland because he knows about whisky."

"Whisky people have a different relationship to whisky than most Scottish people. It's like a separate world," she confesses. "As an outsider, I would be at a tasting thinking, 'You are weird, you all know too much about this, this is not healthy.' "Now I stand with people in a distillery getting excited about still shapes, swan necks, and how that shape will change the taste of the whisky. I do feel I'm one of them now." Rachel's interest in food culture developed after living in Spain for several years in her early twenties. "Spain has reimagined itself gastronomically, especially Catalonia, and it really means a lot to the culture," she explains. "If you go to Scotland, you realise we don't have that. "We have whisky culture. People take whisky in Scotland very personally; hospitality is traditionally based around whisky, not food." In Whisky Galore, Compton Mackenzie understood that perfectly: people bond with whisky in a way that they don't with tea or ginger beer.

If you try any recipes from her book, she recommends the gravadlax or the Caledonia Cream, but she advocates experimenting with food and whisky to your heart's content, "You should be doing this in your house with your pals. It's not something that should be kept in a formal restaurant where you worry about whether you're getting it right or not. "What I'm saying is, if you're enjoying it, you're doing it right!" Chasing the Dram by Rachel McCormack is published by Simon & Schuster,
Magazine Archive

From the archive

Select an issue

Subscribe Now

Subscriptions for
Whisky Magazine are available
in print, digital or as a
complete package

The Benefits

8 print editions a year

Enjoy the convenience of home delivery

Full access to every digital edition via desktop, iOS or Android device

Latest Issue Subscribe Now

The Whisky Encyclopedia - Coming Soon 2024

Discover the world of whisky with our comprehensive encyclopedia
Featuring companies, distilleries, brands, glossaries, and cocktails

Join The Community

Sign up to the Whisky Magazine
newsletter letter and get access to the latest
in all things whisky

paragraph publishing ltd.   Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved.   Website by Acora One

Consent Preferences