Skip to content

The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

The Rhum Agricole:  Distillerie La FavoriteLa Flibuste

www.rhum-lafavorite.com

The Book:  Solibo Magnificent by Patrick Chamoiseau

I’ve just returned from Martinique, where I sipped the island’s superb rhum agricole, La Flibuste, while reading books by its outstanding contemporary writer, Patrick Chamoiseau.

THE RUM (RHUM AGRICOLE)

This Vintage Cuvée 1984 brings a dark mahogany glow to the glass. To the nose, honeyed spice layered with caramel, oak, dried fruits. To the palate, an intricately rich but smooth amalgam of dark spice and fruit, with a quiet edge that lingers long and warm. I’m in awe of this exceptionally well-crafted rhum agricole. The rum (rhum) gods are smiling. (40% abv)

On our second day in Martinique we found our way to Distillerie La Favourite. The site was chosen in 1842 for its water supply, Rivière La Jambette, now not far outside what became the island’s capital, Fort de France. The visit proved a step back in time, an all-senses encounter with the long tradition of rum-making in Martinique. There was the ancient steam engine (the only one still in use in any of the island’s ten distilleries), the workers raking mounds of the sugarcane fibre waste (bagasse) used to fuel it, the bubbling, fermenting vats and their intoxicating aromas, the long lines of aging casks, and the relatively few holding La Flibustre, a collection of distinctive bottles nearby, waiting to be filled.

In 1905 the distillery was purchased by the Dormoy family, and four succeeding generations have taken charge of it. Today La Favourite is one of only two independent, family-owned and operated distilleries remaining in Martinique.

It was André Dormoy who fought for two decades to get the AOC (Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée) designation for the rhum agricole of Martinique. In 1996, the authorities in France finally agreed.

AOC designation protects the reputation of French regional food and drink by ensuring they are produced using standards that maintain their quality. In this case it designates the area of the island the sugarcane can be grown; bans the use of any substances that promote maturation of the cane; specifies restrictions on cultivation yields, irrigation, time of harvest, sugar content, as well as the methods of juice extraction and fermentation.

AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole is made from sugarcane juice obtained by grinding and pressing the freshly cut sugarcane, unlike most rums which are made from molasses. Its standards of production have allowed it to carve out a unique place in the rum world. The best of the Martinique aged rums are highly prized and La Favorite’s La Flibuste is a stand-out among them.

La Flibuste (translation: buccaneer) carries one of the oldest age statements of any commercially produced rum in the Eastern Caribbean. Our Vintage Cuvée 1984 has spent 30 years in ex-cognac oak barrels. Only 5,000 bottles of La Flibuste are available each year, making it a rarity among rums, and leading me to think I must get a second bottle to take home.

THE BOOK

Author Patrick Chamoiseau was born in 1953 in Fort de France, where he still lives. He has worked for years with young offenders, and has still found time to write several much-lauded books, including the masterful, Prix Goncourt-winning novel Texaco. An earlier novel Solibo Magnificent, published in 1988, appeared in English a decade later, expertly translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov.

Translation could not have been an easy task, for the novel is all about language and the role it assumes in present day Martinique. The language here, a French – Creole mix, highlights the vigorous linguistic interplay on the island and its impact on the survival of Creole as a distinct culture.

In 1989 Chamoiseau was one of three writers to issue the literary manifesto “Elogé de la créolité” in which forceful argument was made for the use of Creolese, the language of the ordinary people, if the island’s literature is to truthfully capture its culture.

Solibo Magnificent exuberantly reinforces that argument. The title character, a renowned Creole storyteller, lies dead in the first few pages, “throat snickt by the word” under a tamarind tree in the Savanne, the large park in downtown Fort de France.

It is to the Savanne that I took the book to photograph it, and it is here I imagined the parade of the 14 witnesses to the death, all suspects in what the police presume is murder. Chamoiseau takes the form of the crime novel and transforms it into an entertaining, verbally robust, earthy reflection on the survival of Creole customs and language.

The police probe is led by Chief Inspector Evariste Pilon, with  Sergeant Bouaffess and an inept pair of subordinates, doing the legwork. The witnesses demonstrate the diversity of Martinique society and include the author himself, “the word snatcher,” as he prefers to be thought of. The interrogations are intense, often brutal (two of the witnesses die), and in the end prove nothing. As much as it defies reality, the Chief Inspector is forced to conclude that Solibo succumbed to “word-strangulation.”

Is the novel suggesting that the island’s rich Creole oral tradition is destined to fade away entirely? Can the work of writers such as Chamoiseau help preserve it? It can at least capture it, hold the taste of it, echo the acoustic charms of it. Even if it is transposed to a different, a written, form.

Once the bulk of the story is told, Chamoiseau writes his “After the Word.” Here Solibo himself takes centre stage, in what is the book’s tour de force. It’s best to leave the last words to the storyteller, to the word snatcher.

“so kids if you see Solibo dead and Gwadloup comes to furrow his body bury him under a barrel of rum no crying kids ’cause under the barrel Solibo will be partying every drop of rum of the barrel of rum will flow down his throat for rum bury him under the barrel kids bury him under the barrel and when the priest comes to give him rum for his sprinkler Sobibo will be happy every drop of rum from the rum sprinkler will flow down his rum snout and if the priest says ‘et spiritus sanctus’ will you reply with the song?

SECULARUM IS RUM!”

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Whisky:  The Spencerfield Spirit Co. – Sheep Dip “Old Hebridean” 1990

www.spencerfieldspirit.com

The Book:  Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Sheep Dip vatted whisky together with a classic novel about romance-driven sheep farmers. Both making the most of their refined rustic qualities.

THE WHISKY

Shining dark amber in the glass. Sweet peat, honey and citrus, heathered brine on the nose. Salty caramel, smoke and spice over the taste buds. Finishing rich and memorable. Blended perfection! (40% abv)


Spencerfield Spirit Co. is a small independent whisky producer, the initiative of Alex Nichol and his wife Jane Eastwood. Nicol had worked at Glenmorangie, Laphroaig, and a number of other spirit companies, including Whyte & Mackay, which is presumably where he got to know Richard Paterson. The acclaimed master blender oversees the blending of Spencerfield’s limited but exceptional range of whiskies. They fit nicely into a niche market, reaching people who demand quality, but who are looking for something a little different.

Located in Inverkeithing, across the Forth Rail Bridge from Edinburgh, Spencerfield looks over the Firth of Forth. It occupies a 16th century farm property, complete with dogs, cats, pigs, and racehorses. Sounds like just the place to produce whiskies with names such as Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose.

Behind the quirky names are some seriously good spirits. The first vintage for Sheep Dip, “Old Hebridean” has received a good share of the accolades. Named for a rare breed of Scottish sheep, it brings together a trio of single malts – Ardbeg, Dalmore, and Fettercairn – each distilled in 1990 or earlier and matured for about ten years in their own individual casks, before coming together in first-filled, freshly charred oak, for another ten years. It marries the characteristics of all three whiskies into something distinctly itself.

THE BOOK

Far From the Madding Crowd was Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel, but the first written after he quit work as an architect to devote himself to writing. The novel proved a great literary and commercial success. It steered his career to the writing of the other of his famous novels set in what he termed Wessex, that “partly real, partly dream-country” of southwest England.

The story’s first life was in Cornhill Magazine, in serialized form for the twelve months of 1874. Just prior to its final installment, all twelve were published together in book form. Hardy revised the work substantially for future editions, in the process restoring some of the more controversial elements that had been edited out when it first appeared. These included some elements of the depiction of the central character Bathsheba Everdene, an independently-minded woman, out of step with Victorian England, a woman whose sensuality lives barely beneath the surface of her exterior self. She is a feminist, long before the term ever came into use.

The woman farmer Bathsheba is pursued by three men of diverse backgrounds and temperaments, two of whom share her interest in the rural, farming life. But it is the third, the dashing young soldier, whom she weds. The Sergeant quickly proves a disaster, rekindling the hopes of the other two. What might have been love gives rise to doubt, deception, and eventually gun play. It’s a page-turning reflection on the true nature of attraction and mature love.

Hardy’s characters are richly delineated. They more than fill the pages of the novel, but do so within the context of the landscape, language, and traditions of West Country England. The story has qualities that make it a natural for the cinema, though, of course, Hardy could never have anticipated this. Yet another film version of the story is due for release shortly, which will no doubt rekindle interest in the novel.

The book I read is a particularly handsome edition, printed for The Limited Editions Club in 1958, with original wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker, who also designed the sheep-farming motif for the paper that covers the side boards. The spine is – what else? – natural sheepskin.

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Raki:  Yeni RakiÂLÂ

www.yenirakiglobal.com

The Book: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Raki is synonymous with Turkey. Add a little water and the liquor turns a snowy white. An appropriate companion then to Orhan Pamuk’s novel, in which copious amounts of snow fall, copious amounts of raki are consumed, while the many faces of politics erupt.

THE RAKI

It stands clear in the traditional tall, narrow raki glass, but with the addition of water (or an ice cube) it clouds to look like thin milk. To be more precise, lion’s milk or “aslan sütü”, as the Turks are inclined to call it. Not that you have to be particularly lion-hearted to drink it. After all, 70 million litres of raki are consumed in Turkey each year. Our Yeni Raki ÂLÂ (47% abv) is triple-distilled and goes down rather more smoothly than expected. If you are a drinker of aged whisky and rum it’s more one-note than you are used to. And you must have a liking for aniseed, with which it is flavoured. Raki is best drunk with family and friends, around a table crowded with mezze – colourful, multi-textured small plates of feta, melon, meat kebabs, seafood, and much more – so glasses can be raised and their bottoms (never their tops) clinked.

Until 2004 raki was produced exclusively by the state-owned monopoly Tekel. With privatization came new production methods and new brands. Traditionally, raki was made from distillation of grape pomace, the solids left over from wine-making (skin, pulp, seeds and stems). Today pomace is likely replaced by raisins, figs, plums, or even mulberries.

The grapes used in the production of ÂLÂ are carefully selected, and the aniseed is of the highest quality, from the Cesme-Izmir region of Turkey. The grapes are sun-dried, then ground and mashed together with water. Initial column distillation results in an alcohol level of about 93%. At this stage the aniseed is added, before a second and third distillation in copper alembics. ÂLÂ is then aged in oak barrels, before being filtered to remove any hint of colour.

Raki drinkers generally like the ritual of their crystal clear liquid turning white. The addition of an equal (or slightly more) measure of water dilutes it to an alcohol content near to that of wine. At which point the clinking of glasses (“Serefinize!”) and the parade of mezze can begin.

THE BOOK

Orhan Pamuk‘s “Snow” followed on the heels of his highly successful “My Name is Red.” The two books could hardly be more different. This is a contemporary, politically-charged story set in the remote Turkish city of Kars, near the border with Armenia. It is a dismal place, made more introspective by three days of constant snow. The weather has cut it off from the outside world, turning it to a contained microcosm of Turkish society.

The fractious elements are all here: the Westernized and godless liberal, the Islamic radical fundamentalist, the corrupt military, the confused moderate. All are given a voice and Pamuk allows the jumble of viewpoints to twist and turn the reader in several directions at once. The narrative thankfully thrives on irony and dark humour, charged with a certain circus quality. It makes for an extraordinary novel.

At its centre is an ex-pat Turkish poet who has lived in Germany for a dozen years. He returns to Istanbul and soon finds himself on a bus to Kars, in the role of journalist. He’s there to investigate a rash of suicides by young women being pressured to discard their head scarves in order to comply with the ban on them by colleges. The poet’s name is Ka and just as he arrives the snow begins to fall.

The story is filled with a succession of memorable characters, most notable for Ka, a beautiful young woman named Ipek he knew from his student days, someone he is desperate to see fall in love with him. But there is also her sister Kadife, leader of the girls who champion the wearing of head scarves, and Blue, a handsome terrorist with a distinctly soft side, the newspaperman Serdar who forecasts events and prints them as news before they actually take place, and the husband and wife acting duo of Sunay and Funda who mount bizarre and provocative stage plays.

It is during one of these that violence erupts and several people are killed. Meanwhile, Ka pursues Ipek and follows his muse, dashing off poems at an alarming rate. As it turns out, the story is narrated by someone who discovered Ka’s notes several years after his return to his Frankfurt apartment. Someone named Orhan Pamuk.

What he didn’t find were Ka’s poems. Which to this reader was a disappointment. I was still waiting for some, even just one, when the last of the raki was poured, and the snow finally ended.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Whisky:  Glenfarclasaged 17 years

http://www.glenfarclas.co.uk

The Book:  Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub

For this Christmas season, when my thoughts turned to an historic act of peace, I chose a rich, traditional whisky. It has been one hundred years since the remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914, when common decency outshone the purveyors of war.

THE WHISKY

Golden amber hue, nearing a copper glow. Lovely to see that natural colour, nothing added. On the nose, a classy, complex waft of sherry, caramel, dried fruit and nuts, and a hint of peat. Lovely. On the palate, these intensify and bring in elements of coffee and spice. Lingers very nicely. Warming.

Glenfarclas (glen of the green grass) is in Speyside, although the owners think of their whisky simply as Highland malt. It is one of the few family-owned and managed distilleries left in Scotland, now in the fifth and sixth generations of the Grant family, which seems to have alternated between a John and a George. For its standard bottlings it eschews fancy packaging and promotional gimmickry, channelling it resources into quality whisky at reasonable prices. Glenfarclas has garnered huge respect within the industry and among discerning whisky drinkers.

2015 will be the 150th anniversary of the purchase of Glenfarclas by the first John Grant. Although a good portion of the distillery’s annual output is sold to other whisky companies for blending, it is the standard range (10, 12, 15, 17, 21, 25, 30 and 40 year-old), matured in expensive ex-Oloroso sherry casks, that has built the company’s reputation. It has an enviable 65,000 casks in warehouse, so Glenfarclas bottlers have a remarkable inventory from which to choose, and Glenfarclas drinkers have a lot of quality product to look forward to. Mine is the 17-year-old, a bottling aimed mainly at the overseas and duty-free markets.

Glenfarclas has six stills at its disposal, some of the largest in Speyside. They are direct fired, whereas the vast majority of distilleries use steam. In 1981 they tried steam, but stopped after three weeks. They weren’t satisfied with the quality of the whisky. ‘Steam might be cheaper,’ says the most recent of the George Grants, ‘but here it just made the spirit flat. We want a spirit that has weight to it. We want to age it 50 years.’

In fact this year saw the very limited release of a 60-year-old Glenfarclas.

THE BOOK

Some years ago, while researching WWI, I discovered in a letter written from the Belgium front and reprinted in a local newspaper of the era, these words: “We came out of the trenches last evening and are not out for a few days rest but we spent Christmas Day in the trenches, and believe me it was some day. Not hardly a shot fired throughout the day, and some of the boys were over in the German trenches talking to the Germans.”

The soldier writing the letter had lived not far from where I lived. I had visited his community several times. That touchstone of place had made the Christmas Truce that much more real to me.

In Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, the soldiers speak through their journals and letters and with these accumulated, personal strokes the author draws a picture of the vast, if not continuous, camaraderie between the enemy troops. The Christmas Truce, downplayed by the official histories of the war, is suddenly very real. These are moments of humanity in the midst of the dire inhumanity of the First World War.

“We had been calling to one another for some time Xmas wishes and other things. I went out and they shouted ‘no shooting’ and then somehow the scene became a peaceful one. All our men got out of the trenches and sat on the parapet, the Germans did the same, and they talked to one another in English and broken English. I got on top of the trench and talked German and asked them them to sing a German Volkslied, which they did, then our men sang quite well and each side clapped and cheered the other.”

The soldier, writing to his mother, was Captain R. J. Armes of the First North Staffordshires, in the trenches near the French village of La Chapelle d’Armentières. It could have been any one of thousands of soldiers who took part in their own version of the the Christmas armistice, whether it was a respite for each side to bury their dead, or an exchange of cigarettes, or a game of football. Whether it was trading addresses, often with Germans who had worked in England prior to the war. Or Stille Nicht sung together with Silent Night, as happened again and again, sometimes by men who in their previous lives had been opera singers.

For the most part Weintraub lets the soldiers tell their stories. It gives the book its strength, even though it is repetitive at times. Where he veers away from this approach (for example, into speculation of how the century would have unfolded if the Truce had somehow ended the war) the book is less successful.

It is the personal words, and the melodic notes of that most touching of Christmas songs, which echo through these hundred years.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Whisky:  Douglas Laing & Co.Scallywag

www.douglaslaing.com

The Book:  The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I know of no other fox terrier smart enough to find herself on a whisky label. Nor do many find themselves in seriously good fiction. Asta, the canine charmer in Dashiell Hammett’s classic crime story jumps to mind, on the big screen at least. Alas, in the book she had the temerity to be a schnauzer. But for the sake of good whisky we’ll link the two. Scallywag, meet Asta. THE WHISKY

In the tulip glass a golden yellow, then, within range of the nose, sensitive, delicately sweet, and spicy. A mélange of vanilla, earthy nut fruits, sherry. No one overwhelming the other. Together — a subtle triumph. The palate activates the spice in a semi-creamy, peppery fruit compote, a charming lead-up to Christmas. (46% abv, non-chillfiltered, no added colour) And yes, it goes without saying, a top dog of a whisky.

Douglas Laing & Co. is a Glasgow-based, innovative independent bottler. Founded in 1948 by Frederick Douglas Laing, the firm was subsequently run for many years by his two sons, Fred and Stewart. In 2013 the brothers amicably split the assets and went their separate ways, Fred and his daughter Cara heading up the original company, and Stewart and his two sons establishing Hunter Laing & Co.

Douglas Laing & Co. remains one of Scotland’s largest independents, with a broad range of premium single malts and blended whiskies, from the serious and sophisticated to the rogue Big Peat, the very popular, adept mash-up of four Islay malts. The label image resembles a bruiser of a lumberjack on a bad hair day, which seems no hindrance when it comes to winning awards. Scallywag follows in its footsteps, except this time the malts are from Speyside (including Glenrothes, Macallan, Mortlach, Inchgower and Dailuaine). The high-end blended malts are aged in Spanish sherry butts and ex-bourbon casks. The packaging is fun, 1930-ish sophisticated.

Scallywag, a small batch release first bottled in 2013, was inspired by the distillery’s long line of smart but mischievous fox terriers, in particular one by the name of Binks. The dog has since passed away, but the inspired dram lives on.

THE BOOK

The Thin Man was Dashiell  Hammett’s fifth and final novel. It was published in January of 1934, just a month after the repeal of Prohibition in the United States. The country was ready to drink and the novel gave every reason to, if one were to judge by the lifestyle of the chic New York couple at the centre of the story. Scotch arrives on page two and a drink is forever close at hand, any time of the day. Hammett’s book defined the hard-boiled detective story, making Nick and Nora Charles among his most enduring characters. They’re a witty, wisecracking pair, having great fun with the game of love, indifferent to what society makes of them. They are the perfect vehicle for Hammett’s mastery of dialogue.

The plot (and all crime novels must rely heavily on plot) centres around the murder of Julia Wolfe, secretary and former lover of Claude Wynant, a one-time client of Nick. Ex-detective Nick is drawn into solving the crime against his will, complicated by the fact that Wynant is a strange no-show throughout the book. His lawyer is on the scene, as is Mimi, his ex-wife, and new hubby, and nobody seems to be playing it straight with the two young adult children.

What rescues the novel from being mundanely convoluted is Hammett’s writing style and his development of the lead couple. The writing owes a debt to Hemingway in its threadbare, forthright manner, relying for effect on the candour and cheekiness of Asta’s owners, Nick and Nora. The dog, too, has his moments, and perhaps even more of them in the movie and its several sequels. Asta’s a scallywag, no doubt about it.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Rum:  Dictador20 years

www.dictador.com

The Books:  The Informers and The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Columbia is seen by some as a country of uneasy alliances. A rum with the name Dictador and the politically charged novels of Juan Gabriel Vásquez could be another. It is wise to let each speak for itself.

THE RUM

A dark copper red in the glass. A warm aromatic charge of coffee, baking spices, and caramel, steeped in oak. Definitely invites lingering. When it does reach the mouth, there’s a spirited semi-sweet blend of those same flavours. Smooth, but with an alcoholic burst adding interest. Everything good must fade, if in this case a little too quickly. (40% abv)

So why the name Dictador? The story goes that one Severo Arango y Ferro arrived in the Columbian coastal town of Cartagena de Indies in1751, with the task of increasing commerce between his Spanish homeland and the New World colony. “Dictador”, as he was called by the locals (presumably for his dictatorial ways), fell in love with the rums on this stretch of Carribean coast. They became a major focus of his business. Two centuries later, in 1913, a descendent, Don Julio Arango y Parra, built Destileria Colombiana, and in honour of his forebearer, named his rum Dictador.

The opaque black bottle and the velvety coating on the box make a sexy presentation, as do the mysterious catgirls lurking about the website. Perhaps some rum drinkers are wide-eyed at the notion that the distillation uses fermented “virgin sugar cane honey”, if they don’t realize it is merely pressed sugar cane juice that is poured into the copper pot and stainless steel column stills. Aging using the “solera” method adds to the sense of the exotic. It means that rums of different ages are transferred between barrels at regular intervals, so that the final product is a multi-year blend, in this case with some rum as old as 20 years.

When all is said and done, and what you have is rum poured in a glass, the drinker become the judge, slick adornments aside. The rum is very good. A bit too coffee-sweet for some tastes, peaks a bit early for others. But certainly outside the ordinary, memorable, amorous.

THE BOOKS

Looming over the landscape for any young writer in Columbia must be the figure of Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The impact of his “magic realism” is so strong that to openly defy it required a substantial measure of literary courage. And, if such courage were to be taken seriously, it needed to be backed up by books of substantial merit. Of one of his recent novels, Juan Gabriel Vásquez has said “I want to forget this absurd rhetoric of Latin America as a magical or marvellous continent. In my novel there is a disproportionate reality, but that which is disproportionate in it is the violence and cruelty of our history and of our politics.” All three of his mature novels have been broadly acclaimed. His most recent carried off the Impac Dublin Award.

His focus then are incidents of violent injustice. In The Informers we are taken back to the Second World War and its impact on Germans who had immigrated to Columbia some years earlier and who now find themselves blacklisted as Nazi sympathizers, detained and their livelihoods taken from them.

At the centre of The Informers is a writer, Gabriel Santoro, and his aging father, a highly respected university professor, also named Gabriel. (Interesting enough, as is Vásquez himself, and, of course, Márquez). In rawly intelligent prose that circles about the story from several angles, it is revealed that the father had falsely informed on a friend, with devastating consequences for the accused man and his family. And ultimately for the relationship between the writer and his father.

The novel is shaped by a society of distrust, scarred by violence, where dissent invites retribution. Columbia’s reputation as a country dominated by drug cartels and corruption has only recently diminished. There has been much for Vásquez to draw upon in his fiction. The results to date have been exceptional. And he is still only 41.

The Sound of Things Falling is set in a more recent Columbia. While the novel’s central character, a young law professor, is not a drug user, his life is thrown into turmoil by his country’s violent drug culture of the last quarter of the 20th century. In a Bogotá billiards hall, Antonio Yammara befriends an intriguing loner, Ricardo Laverde, who apparently has just spent two decades in jail. The pair hardly get to know each other before Laverde is killed in a drive-by motorcycle shooting. Yammara also takes a bullet but escapes with his life, although he is never again the same man.

The exemplary novel leads us deeper and deeper into the lives of Laverde, his wife and daughter, revealing how the culture of drugs (as epitomized by drug baron Pablo Escobar), violence and political corruption impacted the whole of Columbian society. There is no escape from history, Vásquez is saying. And a nation’s best writers can never ignore it.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Whisky:  Dimple 18 years

www.dimplewhisky.com

The Book:  Her Privates We by Frederic Manning

It’s been a century since the outbreak of the First World War. Dimple whisky first appeared in the late 1800s, so the odd bottle could have made it to the troop depots of France. An uneasy pairing nonetheless, the whisky being made by John Haig and Co, a firm whose family included Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, the man who bore responsibility for the catastrophe that was the Battle of the Somme. The same battle that the soldiers have just dragged themselves from in the opening pages of the novel.

THE WHISKY

From the indented, triangular bottle with the gold mesh comes a blend of malt and grain whiskies. It’s a light, golden amber in colour, and offers a mildly sweet, malty nose, showing some pepper, showing some spice. In the mouth it’s firm and smooth, an energetic, rewarding sipper. Ageless, and lasting well into the night. (40% abv)

The distilling history of the Haig family can be traced back 400 years. In the early 19th century John Haig established the Cameron Bridge Distillery, which today stands as the oldest and largest spirit distillery in Europe, said to produce in excess of 100 million litres annually for the multitude of Diageo brands.

It was here, in 1826 that the very first grain whisky (the foundation of all blended Scotch) was distilled, in a continuous still invented by Robert Stein, a cousin of Haig. It was a forerunner of the Coffrey still, which set in motion the expansion and success of the modern-day Scotch whisky industry.

Dimple is one of the oldest and best-selling blended whiskies in the world. In the United States, where it is known as Pinch, it was so popular that in 1958 its distinctive bottle became the first bottle ever to be patented in that country.

Dimple/Pinch no longer has the stature it once held, but it does carry a distinct bit of distilling history.

THE BOOK

This is the unsung classic novel of “the war to end all wars”. I have never been more engaged with a novel of war, and been rarely more moved by a novel’s final few pages. That comes, in part, from having written about the First World War myself. And in part from reading a 1930 edition of the book first owned by a soldier of the Newfoundland Regiment who fought on French soil in that same war, who, as he turned the pages, must have found it all so achingly familiar.

Author Frederic Manning wrote from his personal experience of the war. A native of Australia, Manning had settled in the UK, where, in October of 1915, he enlisted in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. The following year he marched as a private to the Battle of the Somme, as did the novel’s central character, Bourne. The two were much alike.

Manning survived the war. A decade passed before he was convinced to combine his writing talents with his experience of the trenches. The result was The Middle Parts of Fortune, released anonymously in a limited edition in 1929. The following year an expurgated version, missing some of the strong language, was published widely as Her Privates We, again authored by “Private 19022″. Manning died six years later, and it wasn’t until 1943 that he was credited with authorship of the novel, and not until the mid-1970s was the book republished in its original version. It appeared once again under its first title, although lately the shorter, more interesting title Her Privates We, has come back into use.

The novel starts and ends with battle scenes, but the long middle section is the focus of the novel — the day-to-day drudgery of the foot soldier and the relationships that hold men together in war, in dread of what will inevitably drive them apart. Bourne is hardly what one would expect of an army private — the intellectual superior of most of the officers he is serving under, a recluse at times, an instigator at others. He speaks some French and is very good at scrounging the luxuries of food and drink (including whisky) that others are forced to do without. He is acutely observant of the war in all its aspects. He befriends a select few that include the obstinate Shem and the under-aged Martlow, with whom he has little in common except a private’s experience of war. For Bourne, that seems to be all he wants, and not the officer commission the higher-ups are pressing for.

No novel of the First World War gives a more intimate experience of the regular soldier’s life. Even so, Her Privates We has remained little known as compared, for example, to All Quiet on the Western Front or A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway himself called it “the finest and noblest book of men in war I have ever read.” It surely deserves renewed attention on this the centenary of the Great War.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.