A headline in the Guardian caught my attention, as the occasional headline is wont to do.
Thirty years ago, a distillery died. Now its scotch sells for £1,500 a bottle
The Scottish industry is booming as whisky becomes the drink of aspiration for the world's middle classes
This is another example of stupid people believing that something is special...which rarely is. This is true of whisky, wine, cars, watches, etc.: anything that has developed a cachet to jack up the price. Rarity is rare; hype is common.
I have sampled many of the most-famous/expensive wines and tried many different whiskys (Scotch, Irish, Japanese), both single malt and blends. Many taste the same (to my uneducated taste buds), and many have a distinctive flavor, especially those with a hint of peat. In the end, all are a beverage with alcohol, something rather cheap and easy to produce. (I am reminded of a song: “Get you copper kettle and get you a copper coil. Fill it with new made corn mash and never more you’ll toil.” Which, of course, is about making moonshine, but makes the point about the ease.)
I lost all respect for alcohol beverage cachet during my sojourn in Vietnam. All drinks cost 10 cents at the officers’ club. Once the inflated mark-up and taxes are removed, distilled drinks cost no more than soft drinks. There is no magic, except in the eye of the beholder. Or his or her taste buds.
Case in point is my choice of gin. I like Gordons, a brand not at the top of any survey. Often, I notice the bartender’s difficulty in hiding his disdain: he surely thinks I want the cheapest brand. I prefer the taste to that of the expensive brands, all of which I have sampled. I don’t care what people think of my preferences.
NB. One thing baffles me about the above headline: who in what “middle class” can afford or would pay so much for whisky?
I think I might have mentioned buying Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, which I have begun to read. The book was published in 1953, so much has changed in the world and regarding the image of the hero. This book presents his initial introduction to the world, before Hollywood’s grasp inflicted its (insert own choice of adjective or adjectives) marks.
I have enjoyed what I have read so far (and expect to enjoy the remaining pages) but have not gotten far. I was interested to note that Bond’s trademark martini is different than the one made famous by films. He instructs a barmen how to mix his drink: three parts Gordon’s gin and half part vodka (preferably grain, not potato), which should be shaken with ice and poured into a champagne glass with added slice of lemon rind.
I noted the choice of Gordon’s gin, which seems to have slipped in image since those days. Brands like Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire have for many a greater cache. I, on the other hand, prefer Gordon’s. I am not a big gin drinker, but do enjoy a gin and tonic whenever near the scene of a Somerset Maugham story. Over the years, I have tried many brands of gin, well-known and less well-known (I shudder to recall the amount of jenever I have imbibed “drinking with the boys” in Holland), and keep coming back to the one whose image has faded. I know this, because many of the “better” bars do not stock Gordon’s, and I have noted a hint of disdain, on occasion, when I ask for it by name. I am certain that the odd bartender considers me cheap for not ordering one of the over-priced, chic brands. I do not care: I will stick with my preferred taste. Now, I can bask in the knowledge that James Bond and I have something in common.
I might not share too many of James Bond’s character traits or talents, but we could drink together...
NB. There is a sentence in the book, which suggests that Monsieur Fleming had not met many Americans...or was a poor judge of character. “...Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas.” I will forgive him, because this was written well before the of George Bush or Rick Perry stomped on the image of my fellow countrymen...and me.